29 December 2007

Understanding the culture of genealogy

Genealogists of all religions and ethnicities should understand how other groups view family history, traditions and how they preserve and transmit that knowledge to future generations.

As we learn about others' creative methods, we may find new ways to think about our own work.

Here's a story that sheds light on genealogy in the Armenian community.

Armen Afrikyan, a historian-lawyer by training, explains what importance a family tree has for Armenians and shows the family tree of the well-known dynasty of the Afrikyans authored by himself.

"It is typical for us, Armenians, to have a family tree. And it is not accidental that when we gather around tables, we don’t forget to drink a toast for our forefathers. And I think it is good when people know the history of their families,” he says.

Afrikyan's ancestors emigrated from Bayazet and Alashkert to Eastern Armenia, settled near Lake Sevan and founded Nor Bayazet village.

“Our great grandfather was Abraham, who married Khanum and had 10 sons and one daughter by her. In 1830, the branch of my grandfathers moved from Gavar to Yerevan,” Armen says.

The family was also in the Armenian capitol of Yerevan, where they owned several stores and factories, and built a water conduit as a charity project.

In 1842, Abraham’s name was changed (in church records) to Aprik. His children were called Aprikyants and, from 1870, Afrikyans, who worked and lived not only in Armenia but also in Tbilisi, Georgian Republic, Baku, Azerbaijan and Black Sea ports.

In a statement reminiscent of what all genealogists - no matter our personal backgrounds - have experienced as we embark on our quests, Afrikyans says there's "a gene sleeping in all of us that only needs to be awakened."

“Old photographs of the family had an influence on me and I began to study the history of the family. Nothing was spoken about our family for a long time during the Soviet years, because in 1922 my grandfathers were dispossessed of their property as kulaks and all their belongings were nationalized,” Armen says.

In 2002, he began to collect documents connected with his family and learned that Matogh Agha of the Gavar Afrikyans branch received the title of prince in Gavar, and that Arakel Agha's son became a Russian nobleman. He now considers himself to be of princely origin with all these certificates.

He produced a family album and a family tree, displayed at his recently opened inn, and he began to prepare albums for nine families who wanted them.

"Then I understood that simply a service needed to be established that could help people to get to know their roots if they wanted to,” Armen says.

In 2006, he established the Afrikyan & Bianjyan Group Co. that restores the history of customers’ dynasty and family. During research work the company works at archives in Yerevan and abroad, applies to state bodies and nongovernmental organizations for information.

“We do huge work with representatives of a given dynasty, collecting memories, recording interviews, making photographs, studying archives,” Armen explains.

Family archives of a dynasty are arranged into “Dynasty Book”, “Photographs Book”, “Documents Book” and “Family Relics Book” sections.

Afrikyan says that the service is an expensive indulgence.

“Usually, when they inquire about the cost, we cannot answer. The final expense depends on the size of a given dynasty,” he says.

The largest order ($6,000-$7,000) so far was from the Yerevan Brandy Company to create an album for the company's 130th anniversary. Research took six months and the 130-page album is made of silver and bronze, beginning with the family tree of original owner Tairyan and ending with the current owner's tree, Gagik Tsarukyan.

The story ends with a comment about the Afrikyans Inn that everyone can relate to: "Everything here feels sort of warm and dear. The past and the present appear to converge here, which makes visitors think about their forefathers for a moment."

Read more here.

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