Archive for September, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 @ 06:09 PM Bluebird

Alexandria, along with Constantinople and Smyrna, was one of the great hubs of Greek business and culture outside Greece in the period leading up to the First World War. A Greek Consulate was set up in Alexandria as early as 1833, very soon after Greek independence, and the population flourished with the cotton boom of the 1860s. Many among the earliest waves of immigrants came from those cosmopolitan Greek families which had business as well as kinship connections throughout the Mediterranean and beyond to, for example, Britain and Switzerland.  And the Greeks came to Alexandria not just from Greece but of course from the Greek regions of Turkey-in-Europe and Asia Minor. Indeed, a disproportionate number arrived in Alexandria from the Greek islands such as Chios, Crete, Cyprus and Lemnos which were Ottoman possessions throughout the 19th century.

The Greeks settled especially in the downtown Ramleh and Shatby (the so-called Quartier Grec) neighbourhoods in Alexandria, where their businesses – whether small grocer’s or international finance – prospered and attracted further immigration. Even when immigration eased off (for instance, when Greeks started emigrating en masse to USA, or after the 1907 financial crash), the number continued to swell by natural increase – there were between 1,000 and 2,000 Greeks born annually in Alexandria during the 1910s and 1920s. At the time of the 1917 census, 25,393 Greek citizens were counted in Alexandria – and it should be noted that this figure excludes those who were British, Ottoman or of course Egyptian subjects. By the next census in 1927, which was about the time the Greek population in Egypt peaked, this figure had reached 37,106 (approximately 6% of Alexandria’s total population).

And of course the Greeks created vital records – Greek Orthodox baptism, marriage and burial registers – which, where surviving, are of tremendous value to Alexandria Greeks and their descendants now residing in the worldwide diaspora. Even if a family was settled in Alexandria for three, four or more generations, it is very likely that these records will prove to be a stepping stone to somewhere else: if you are lucky, the registers will point to the original immigrant’s place of origin beyond Egypt.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010 @ 08:09 AM Bluebird

John Millar’s The Lithuanians in Scotland (House of Lochar, 1998) provides a very readable account of the lives of first and second generation Lithuanian immigrants in Scotland, covering their geographic distribution, their working and living conditions, their customs and traditions. It is fascinating on the name changes and how most immigrants took Scottish surnames (usually seemingly assigned to them rather than chosen voluntarily).

The book was written before the recent great explosion of interest in family history and, of course, was not written with the family historian in mind. Unfortunately, while it should prove essential reading to anyone trying to understand their Lithuanian roots in Scotland, it is less helpful for anyone wishing to extend their genealogical research back to Lithuania. The book is light on the places of origin of the Lithuanians who came to Scotland. Various places are mentioned in passing – “Vladislavovskiy district” (today known in Lithuanian as the border town of Kudirkos Naumiestis), “the valley of the Nemunas River”, “Mikolines dvaras near Mariampolė” (a dvaras is a farm or manor estate), “Sukalupio dvaras in the Naumiestis area” and Kaunas itself. If these places are plotted on a map of Lithuania, it does appear that Millar’s general statement that “the majority… came… from the Suvalkija area in the south-west of the country and from the Kaunas district” is probably true. This is the region south of the Nemunas and east of the Šešupė River, extending east to Kaunas.

However, it is important to understand that vital records in Lithuania – the Roman Catholic parish registers of baptism, marriage and burial – are held by specific locality. There is no centralised or regional indexing, and no computerised database. Therefore, it is vital to know or to be able to find out exactly where an ancestor came from to have good prospects of finding their birth or baptism in Lithuania and being able to research their family tree back from there.

One also needs to be mindful of not confusing a regional place name with a town or village name. For instance, Kaunas is both the town and the region – in Imperial Russian times, Kovno (Kaunas) gubernia covered the majority of what is today Lithuania. Similarly, Suwałki gubernia covered the Suvalkija region mentioned above plus adjoining territory in what is today Poland, including the Polish town of Suwałki itself.

The historical geography is especially important to grasp as, with the exception of Lithuanian immigrants who arrived in Scotland as Displaced Persons immediately after WW2, the Lithuanians in Scotland came to the country from the Russian Empire before the start of WW1. In historical documents, therefore, including Scottish census returns, Russian terminology is to be expected, as the Lithuanians were Russian subjects, who prior to their emigration had resided in the Russian Empire (“Poland” is often seen too, as Suwałki gubernia was part of Congress Poland, that part of partitioned Poland belonging to Russia).

For professional family history research services in Lithuania, Bluebird Research recommends:

Sigita Kasparavičienė

Sigita is based in Vilnius.

in Vilnius

in Vilnius

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010 @ 01:09 PM Bluebird

When the British occupied Cyprus in 1878, Nicosia was the only large town and the great majority of the island’s population resided in the 900 or so villages. Some Cypriot villages were solely Christian and some solely Muslim, but many were of mixed religion to a greater or lesser extent. Intermarriage took place between Turkish men and Christian women but generally Christian men were not permitted to take Muslim wives. 

Some families, known as linobambaki or linobamvaki, or “flax and cottons”, had a kind of dual identity. Some of the early colonial British saw this simply and pejoratively as an expedient adaptation, a kind of shifting identity avowedly Christian and Muslim alternately, as it suited the linobambaki, for instance Christian to avoid military service and Muslim to avoid the military exemption tax. Indeed, they had a reputation among the British for either avoiding taxes or being perpetually in arrears. The linobambaki took names such as the local equivalents of Jacob and Joseph which could pass as Christian or Muslim, Greek or Turkish. 

However, today the received opinion is that the linobambaki were crypto-Christians, who tried to conform outwardly to Islam while inwardly still observing the Christian faith. There are some persuasive arguments that the linobambaki tended to be Roman Catholic Franks or Latins, with distant Western European roots, or Maronites, rather than Greek Orthodox, although straightforward conversion to Islam did of course occur. 

Everywhere in rural Cyprus, regardless of religion, marriage was contracted at a young age: it was quite common for a boy to marry at aged 15 years and his bride to be a girl of 12 years or younger. Divorce seems to have been a straightforward affair and neither infrequently sought nor socially unacceptable. 

What appears somewhat unusual is the modest family size. Early British colonial administrators were surprised to find that married couples often had only one or two children (and suspected female infanticide). Having three or four children was considered a burden in the context of the rural poverty in which most families lived. The Ottoman state had collected a poll tax, called a verghi, on every male aged 15 years and older, as well as the tithe, a tax on livestock and, in the case of Christians, the exemption tax in lieu of army service. These charges upon essentially subsistence smallholders and peasants kept them poor and acted as a disincentive to large family size. This makes Cyprus quite a marked contrast to the rest of Turkey-in-Europe, where big peasant families were the norm despite the attentions of  Ottoman tax collectors.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010 @ 01:09 PM Bluebird

From the mid-1820s the small Estonian seaside town of Haapsalu began to develop into a resort, attracting tourists from St Petersburg, Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian Empire, as well as visitors from abroad, especially Germany.

Picture postcards from the 19th and early 20th century generally carry titles and descriptions in Russia or German, often both, sometimes also in French, but never in Estonian. The town is called Hapsal or, transliterated from the Russian Cyrillic, Gapsal’, the Russians at that date using a hard G for the soft H in foreign proper nouns.

The names of buildings, shops and streets in postcards of old Haapsalu show the marked Germanic influence prevalent throughout Russian Estonia. For example, Bergfeldt’s Baths, the publisher Eduard Siegfeldt, Marie Schmidt’s haberdashery shop, the Pension Rosenberg, the Villas Friedheim and Wenden, and so on. However, sometimes these names can be misleading, as many ethnic Estonians bore Germanised names: for example, the artist Hans Laipmann, who went to school here, later became, in 1935, Ants Laikmaa. But it is true that many of the Haapsalu locals who benefitted from the resort status of their small town were ethnic Germans rather than Estonians or, for that matter, Swedes, who lived there also.

When I stayed in Haapsalu in 2006, few tourists were in evidence and most of these were Estonians, Finns and Swedes, at least some of the last perhaps interested in their Aiboland (or, in Estonian, Rannarootsi or “coastal Swedish”) roots. In the harbour district of Haapsalu there is a modest and seemingly little-visited museum dedicated to the now much diminished Swedish community of Noarootsi vald and the other parishes in Läänemaa county in NW Estonia (the great majority of whom – some 8,000 – fled during the Second World War).



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Wednesday, September 8, 2010 @ 09:09 AM Bluebird

Passports are conceived as facilitators of long-distance travel, to permit the bearer to cross international frontiers. For this reason, only a proportion of the population of most states applies for and possesses a passport: those who have no need to leave the country do not own one. 

In Soviet Russia, however, these notions were turned upside down. Passports became mandatory but there was no freedom of international movement and only a tiny percentage of the civilian population ever went abroad. 

Effectively, the passport was a misnomer. Really, it was an ID card to control the population, including and especially its movements. 

In fact, the Soviets inherited the passport from Tsarist times but abandoned it during the first rush of idealistic reforms, regarding it as a mechanism of ancien régime despotism. However, as the new regime became embedded and found itself confronting no end of difficulties, it recognised the value of the internal passport. It was re-introduced in December 1932 at the time of the famine, with its associated massive displacement of desperate people. At the same time, the Soviets also introduced residence permits for the urban population, so as to control who could and could not reside in particular cities and towns. Both passports and residence permits were administered by the Soviet security police, at that time known as OGPU but later as the NKVD. 

As well as the expected details of name, date and place of birth, residence and nationality (ethnicity), the passport also recorded the bearer’s social class. This enabled the Soviet state to manage a system of positive discrimination in favour of, for example, the urban proletariat, and to curtail the rights of a growing list of class enemies and “former people” (kulaks and the dekulakised, former landlords and merchants, NEPmen, nobles, priests, the old Tsarist bourgeoisie and its technical experts etc). The passport enabled the security police to implement internal deportation and exile. 

Before the re-introduction of passports from 1932, the basic identity document was the simple spravka, which was issued by the local soviet. It should be borne in mind if using either a Soviet passport, or a residence permit, or a spravka in one’s family history research that the information contained may not be reliable, as these papers were not neutral documents and statements of fact but conferred or denied privilege. For some individuals, therefore, it was useful to alter or fabricate details, to get on in life or simply try to escape persecution and repression. Forging and falsifying documents was a thriving underground cottage industry in some places and times. All ID documents from Soviet times should therefore be treated with caution. 

This need for the genealogist to exercise caution with regard to the reliability of official documents is not restricted to the former USSR, of course. For example, following the turmoil of WW2, many millions of people found themselves dislocated in Central Europe and with inadequate proofs of ID, or no ID at all, or with a compromised or an unfortunate ID which they destroyed. Documents were vital in the UN registration of Displaced Persons (which could lead either to repatriation or to settlement abroad) and many of these DPs acquired identification papers which did not truly reflect the holders’ real identities.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010 @ 10:09 PM Bluebird

Last week I attended a fascinating talk by Larysa Bolton, archivist at Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester. Larysa outlined the history of the Ukrainian community in Manchester and then spoke more specifically about her role in collecting community archives. 

The Ukrainians in the city have been reinforced since 1991 by a new wave of immigrants but the longstanding community is founded on two earlier waves. The first of these comprised essentially economic migrants from the Austrian province of Galicia (Halychyna to Ukrainians) in the 1890s and 1900s. The second wave was mostly of political refugees, from the same region (which had become, between the World Wars, SE Poland) via occupied defeated Germany and Austria, in the immediate post-WW2 era (under the British government’s European Volunteer Worker scheme of 1946-1951). Most Ukrainians tended to settle around Red Bank and Cheetham, along the artery north out of the city towards Bury. 

From the archival point of view, neither the first nor the second wave of Ukrainian immigrants placed great importance on preserving the documentary history of their life in UK. This is changing, partly through successful archival outreach work and partly through the growing interest in family history as second, third and later generation descendants of immigrants discover their Ukrainian roots. 

Useful introductory websites concerning the Ukrainians of Manchester include those of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain and this Multi-Cultural Manchester Ukrainian page.  

Bluebird Research undertakes family history research in Poland and throughout Ukraine and is happy to provide advice on genealogical research in Eastern Europe for those investigating their Ukrainian family history.

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