George Aghjayan / Armenian Weekly
Conferences on Armenian genealogy have been held annually for the last three years (in Watertown, Mass. in 2016; in Detroit, Mich. in 2017; and in Mahwah, N.J. earlier this year). These conferences have been the culmination of almost 40 years of effort. In fact, exactly 40 years ago, in 1978, three individuals, Nephi Kezerian, George Aposhian, and Audrey Megerian, took the groundbreaking step of forming a corporation with the purpose of gathering genealogical records to assist Armenians researching their family histories. Initially called the Armenian Genealogical Records Search Foundation, it would later become known as the Armenian Genealogy Society.
The majority of Armenians are under the mistaken belief that all pre-genocide Armenian records have been destroyed and that little can be learned about their personal ancestry beyond what has been handed down through oral tradition. It is undoubtedly true that most pre-1915 Armenian church records were destroyed either during the genocide or in the years since. In addition, few genocide survivors were able or willing to recount their experiences or their family lineage. But that is not the complete story.
The first task for this small group of dedicated Armenians was to identify the existing records, their location and condition. Megerian undertook a ten-week fact-finding trip. As I read through her account, it is interesting to see her sentiments mirror those I continue to possess. She stated, “Although we cannot resurrect or replace what is lost, we can gather and lovingly preserve what exists as rapidly as possible.” She had found “records crumbling from excessive moisture, eaten by worms, or consumed by other forces.”
Megerian also understood the risks to critically important records located in conflict regions around the world. There was an acute sense of urgency to the effort at preservation. In the years that followed, records from around the world were microfilmed and stored in the Granite Mountains Records Vault owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). To date, these records have been underutilized. In addition, there remain important records that are not part of the collection either because they were inaccessible at the time or unknown.
In 1991, there was a failed attempt to create the Armenian Family Heritage Society along with a family tree project. This was a project of the Armenian Genealogy Society and the American Armenian International College. A wide range of leadership in the community supported the project, including religious leaders from the U.S. and around the world. My certificate of membership is numbered 12. The effort never took hold, perhaps being an idea before its time.
While there are some individuals and families that have spent decades researching their Armenian roots, the great majority of Armenians dispersed around the world have only recently realized the vast potential of the information available as well as the technological advances of the past two decades. The Armenian Genealogy Facebook group now numbers almost 10,000 members!
Two early pioneers that broadened their own research to include information that would be of general interest were Linda Avakian and Mark Arslan. In 1996, Avakian published “Armenian Immigrants: Boston 1891-1901 New York 1880-1897.” This was at a time before ship manifests were readily available. Avakian painstakingly went through rolls of microfilm identifying each Armenian who had come to the United States through the ports of New York and Boston for periods that had not been indexed as yet.
Arslan began his family research many years ago. Eventually he would expand his focus to all Armenian immigrants from the region of Kghi/Keghi and then to all Armenians. His work has grown to become the Armenian Immigration Project website which includes ship manifests, census records, military records and even the ads from the Hairenik placed in the aftermath of the genocide in hopes of learning the whereabouts of relatives. It is the single most important source on Armenians who immigrated to the United States.
While there have been various websites and other resources specific to particular families or villages, that is not the purpose of this article. Much important work has been done to date, but the amount still to be done is even greater as we try to repair the rupture in our family histories resulting from the genocide. This aspect of genocide is little talked about. While focusing on those murdered and the wealth stolen, both monetary and cultural, we have neglected to discuss the theft of knowledge of our origins or the forced global disbursement of our families. The magnitude of the crime committed against our people is difficult to comprehend and impossible to quantify.
My objective here is to detail some of the available source records. In a number of articles in the Armenian Weekly and on Houshamadyan.org, I have only touched on some of these sources. I would like to expand on those initial articles. The obvious question remains, what records exist but are undocumented, where can the be accessed, and how can they be similarly preserved?
The first of this series will examine records from Syria, including those found in the LDS Family History Library and the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul.
The Syrian-Armenian community is important not only as the major way station for those surviving the genocide, but also as an economic hub attracting Armenians throughout the Euphrates river valley throughout the 19th century and most likely for centuries prior to that as well.
The available records from Syria contained in the LDS archives are limited. As I understand it, the filming of records in 1988 was stopped after completing only one roll. In addition, restrictions were placed by Armenian church officials limiting usage of the records to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Given the ongoing tragedy in Syria, one wonders what is the condition of the records that have not been filmed and the ability to access them.
What is available include baptism records beginning in 1843 and continuing through 1937. Marriage records from Holy Forty Martyrs church are only available for the period 1878-1900. The early baptism records supply sparse information, even the date is lacking (e.g. the first baptism recorded is for Boghos, son of Ilias Tahan Kalpakju). Linking a baptism to a known person is complicated by the lack of uniform surnames. Occupation, birthplace, etc. are the only form of identification. The month of baptism was added in 1851 and the day of the month in 1854. In 1873, the godfather and officiating priest were included. It was only after 1900 that the mother’s name appears.
In addition to these records, there is at least one Ottoman population register for non-Muslims in the district of Aleppo. The register dates from 1848-9 and is found in the T.C. Başbakanlık Devlet Arşivleri Genel Müdürlüğü (Ottoman Archives) in Istanbul. Only men were recorded and, again, the lack of standardized surnames is problematic in identification. The following information is contained in the register for each male: income level (high, low, middle), height (tall, short, medium), color and style of facial hair (beard, mustache, clean-shaven), occupation, and age.
Thus far, these records have primarily been used by families from the Chmshgadzak and Arapgir regions, as well as those from Sasun. The transcription of these various records into databases would greatly increase their accessibility and use.
This article is part of a continuing series documenting the available records for research into one’s Armenian family roots. Part I in the series supplied a historical background on the Armenian genealogy movement as well as specific records available for Syria. In Part 2, records from Lebanon and Israel will be detailed.
Similar to Syria, the Armenian community of Lebanon has its origins prior to the genocide. Though, in general, very few Armenian church records have come to light for periods prior to 1800. The destruction caused by the genocide does not completely explain the absence of such records. Neglect may be the most reasonable additional explanation. One only has to imagine what will be available a century or more into the future from our church records today, and we live in an age where preservation is more easily achievable.
The LDS Family History Library contains a copy of the midwife records from Beirut. However, the catalog reference on FamilySearch.org is incomplete. The records actually begin in Aintab and then continue to Aleppo with the relocation of the women serving as midwives. While unique and culturally important, from a genealogical perspective they are limited. Still, a child’s date of birth and the choice of words to identify a family are both interesting and informative. For example, on Jan. 2, 1897, the daughter-in-law of Besnili (from town of Bresni in Adiyaman district) Kecheji (felt maker) Krikor gave birth to a boy.
Thus far, I have not worked with or identified the location of Ottoman-era population registers for regions now part of Lebanon. However, Armenian church records are available through the LDS Family History Library. A number of mortality studies made use of these and other records in the LDS collection. The driving force behind these important studies, published in the 1980s and 1990s, was Haroutune K. Armenian.
The earliest records begin in 1863 for St. Nshan church in Beirut. These early records indicate the infrequent occurrence of sacraments. As I peruse the register, the family groupings become apparent quickly. For instance, on Jan. 12, 1879, Hampartsoum Choporian/Chopourian from Agn married Yeghisapet from Agn. On June 2 of the following year, their daughter Vartouhi was baptized.
While the sacramental records continue through approximately 1980, there are also three church censuses included in the available records. Though I have not had the opportunity to view these, the censuses date from 1949, 1970 and 1980. Also available are the sacramental records of a number of other parishes from around Lebanon. The catalog on FamilySearch.org details these resources as well.
One of the nice features of the church records from Lebanon is the existence of baptism, marriage and funeral indexes. The indexes are alphabetical according to the first initial of the surname and then within each letter the records are organized chronologically. The baptism index begins in 1903, while the marriage index in 1934 and the funeral index in 1869.
In looking through the indexes, I happened to find a reference to a likely relative of mine. The funeral for Srabion Aghjayan was held on 20 Jan 1892 in Beirut. As he was shown to be from Yozgat, combined with the uniqueness of my surname, the probability of our relationship is rather high.
The Armenian community of Palestine, and Jerusalem in particular, dates back centuries. The available records for this region offer unique opportunities not possible elsewhere.
Once again, the LDS Family History Library contains copies of vitally important records. There are parish registers for both the Armenian Apostolic Church as well as the Armenian Catholic Church. On FamilySearch.org, one needs to search each location separately (e.g. Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Nazareth, Bethlehem).
The sacramental records of St. Nigoghayos (Tel-Aviv) beginning in 1844 and the Jerusalem Patriarchate beginning in 1838 are available. The Armenian Catholic church records are available for the years since the Armenian Genocide. Additionally, the sacraments as well as the history of the Armenian monastery at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem have been microfilmed.
One particularly interesting resource is the register of visiting pilgrims to Jerusalem. The register begins in 1872 and lists the head of each party, where they were from, the number of people traveling in the party, and how much was donated.
While the above records are each important in their own right, what makes Israel truly unique is the availability of late-Ottoman population registers. While in other locations, the Ottoman registers are only available for years prior to 1860, in the case of Palestine, they are available up to 1917 in some cases. This allows for analysis of the quality of the information in ways previously not thought possible.
A recent query from someone on the Armenian Genealogy Facebook group prompted a rekindling of my interest in the Jerusalem records. The search for the answer serves as a wonderful example of what is possible.
Mikayel the tailor (derdzak or terzi), son of Hovhannes, was known by Zakarian and was born in the early 1800s in Jersualem. Prior to the available records from the Jerusalem church, he married Heghine Aprahamian from Beirut. Exactly how many unrecorded children were born to this marriage is unknown, but on Jan. 18, 1849, a son, Khachadour, was baptized. In addition, we can find the baptism for another son, Krisdosdour, on Aug. 3, 1852. We know of another son, Hovhannes, from his marriage on Oct. 14, 1866, to Takouhi Garabedian. From these and other records, we do not know the origin of the surname Zakarian, possibly the Mikayel’s paternal grandfather was named Zakar or Zakaria. With each new generation, the church records would refer to Mikayelian, Hovhannesian, Krisdosdourian, etc. while the family to this day still goes by Zakarian.
The unique aspect of this example is that beyond the church records, the family can be identified in the Ottoman population registers. Thus, we are able to gain insight into the record keeping process of both the Armenian church and Ottoman officials to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each.
The first Ottoman population register dates to approximately 1881-82 with information continually added over the next 20 years. At the time the register was created, the patriarch of the clan was Mikayel and from this record we learn his father’s name, approximate year of birth (1812) and birthplace (Jerusalem). The household would grow to 21 people. We also learn that his wife, Heghine, was born around 1815, though the register misstates her birthplace as Jerusalem.
The household includes two sons and two daughters of Mikayel and Heghine, but their son Khachadour is not listed. From the church records, we can confirm Khachadour passed away in 1864 at the age of 18. This would place his funeral not quite 16 years after his baptism implying he was over a year old at baptism which would be very uncommon.
The second Ottoman population register continues the information on the family through 1914. By this time, Mikayel and Heghine had passed away and the family had grown to require two households, one headed by Hovhannes and the other by Krisdosdour.
There are Ottoman birth, marriage, divorce, and death registers that supplement the latter population register as well. I have only touched upon the possibilities here; a more thorough study is required to fully appreciate the over 100 years of documentation for this one family and others like them with roots in Jerusalem.
This article is part of a continuing series documenting the available records for research into one’s Armenian family roots. Part I in the series supplied a historical background on the Armenian genealogy movement as well as specific records available for Syria. In Part 2, records from Lebanon and Israel were detailed.
Alongside Syria and Lebanon, Greece offers some of the most important post-Genocide records for Armenians. (Of course, there are also pre-Genocide records, as well.) Fortunately, a significant amount of the church records were microfilmed by the Mormon church and are contained in the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Family History Library.
Each church in various communities has its own register. In addition, the Prelacy in Athens compiled a register combining records from each of the parishes. Thus, it is important to check both sources to verify information, to identify potential discrepancies as well as additional information in one or the other source. Typically, the individual parish records are more complete, encompassing a longer span of time.
The oldest records available are for St. Hovhannes Garabed Church of Crete. The baptisms date from 1700, marriages from 1823, and funerals from 1669. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to read.
There is a fair amount of additional information available beyond the typical sacraments recorded by each church. For example, there are extensive documents related to the repatriation of Armenians to Soviet Armenia following World War II. There are similar records in Armenia documenting the arrival of the repatriates. Thus, another opportunity exists for comparison and validation of information.
St. Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church of Thessaloniki offers another interesting example as the records begin in 1885. The register begins with a household census for 35 families followed by the listing of sacraments. An example may help to illustrate just how far one can trace their roots, should they be fortunate enough to have families from these locations.
There were three Piusgiulian households, each headed by a son of Kevork and Yeghisapet: Medzadour (born 1847), Takvor (born 1862), and Hagop (born 1864). The records indicate that the sons were all born in Malgara (Rodosto region of Thrace). While Medzadour and Takvor were most likely married in Malgara, Hagop was married to Makrouhi Malkhasian on Nov. 27, 1894 in Thessaloniki. On this record, Hagop’s father is listed as Kevork Minas Piusgiulian. Thus, taking us one more generation back in the assumption that Kevork’s father was named Minas.
It is simple, then, to confirm the information of the children of the three brothers, all having been born in Thessaloniki, and also, to find their marriages. For example, Kevork (age 28), the son of Medzadour, married Haygouhi Toukhmanian (age 18, born Chmshgadzak) on July 8, 1912. The baptism record for Kevork indicates he was born on Sep. 27, 1885 and baptized Oct. 4, 1885, thus making him actually 27 when married.
From the records, we can see other Piusgiulian’s from Malgara moved to Thessaloniki. Two sons of Haroutiun Piusgiulian, Vahan and Yervant, were also married around the same time as Kevork and had been born in Malgara. An almost 100-year history of this one family can be discerned from the available sources.
It will be of special interest to many that a number of refugee censuses were conducted in Greece, as well. The information is generally very limited (i.e. name of the individual, father’s name, age, birthplace, occupation, number of people in the family, etc…). Unfortunately, the censuses are generally not in any sort of order. Thus, their usage will be limited until such time as the records are entered into a searchable database. One aspect I find fascinating is the inclusion of individual photographs in certain cases. The recording of refugees continued for many years.
One refugee list, dated Dec. 18, 1924, included the Tatarian family of Gesaria: father, Artin; mother, Filor; and sons, Apraham and Hagop. Hagop was stated to be nine years old, born in 1915. I was able to locate the baptism record for Hagop from St. Krikor Lusavorich Church. It confirms the parents’ names as Haroutiun Tatarian and Filor Chapoutian. Hagop was born on Oct. 2, 1914 and baptized on Nov. 29, 1914. It is satisfying to be able to verify information in this way.
Another refugee census seems to have been taken for those that were part of the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey. The two locales included were Adana and Agn. 48 people were listed from Agn including the Tshkhoyian family – father Drtad (born 1878 Agn), mother Veronig (born 1885 Agn), son Haygazoun (born 1908 Agn), and daughter Arpine (born 1909 Agn). They were living in the Pangrati neighborhood of Athens. On Aug. 1, 1923, this family arrived at the port of New York on the SS Constantinople. They were joining Drtad’s cousin, Parmak Adamian, in Worcester.
The last of the documents I would like to detail here is the histories of those living in the Swiss Christian Home for the Elderly in Kokkinia, a village and community in Northern Greece. The histories are almost entirely written in German. “Siranoush Badikian was born in 1885 in Afyon Karahisar. She was married with three children at the start of the Armenian massacres.” So begins one account.
While a small amount of Armenians may have lived in what is now Jordan prior to 1915, the greatest influx occurred during and after the genocide. A single roll of microfilm pertaining to Jordan exists in the LDS Family History Library. The first part of the microfilm contains the sacramental records from St. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Catholic church of Amman. The register, microfilmed in January of 1987, begins in 1950 and contains information through 1986 (335 baptisms, 105 marriages, and 19 funerals). The information is in beautifully handwritten Armenian.
The second part of the microfilm contains the sacramental records for St. Thaddeus Armenian Apostolic church, also located in Amman. Filmed at the same time as St. Sahag and Mesrob, the Apostolic church records begin in 1925 (baptisms). The marriage records begin in 1938 and funeral records in 1936.
In glancing through the funerals, I happened on one with a connection to the previously mentioned Zakarian family of Jerusalem (Part 2). Hovhannes Zakarian was buried on Nov. 17, 1948. The funeral record states he was 42 years old and born in Jerusalem. Hovhannes would appear to be the son of Khachadour and Takouhi. His baptism record from Jerusalem, dated Jan. 25, 1904, listed his parents surname as Hovhannesian based on Khachadour’s father’s name. The Ottoman population register states his birth year as 1320 (hijra) which equates to 1902-3.
This serves as a useful cautionary example. The date of baptism and funeral cannot be disputed, however the date of birth is inexact and special note should be made of the changing ways families are identified.
This article is part of a continuing series documenting the available records for research into one’s Armenian family roots. Part I in the series supplied a historical background on the Armenian genealogy movement as well as specific records available for Syria. In Part 2, records from Lebanon and Israel were detailed. Part 3 covered the records of Greece and Jordan.
Southeast Asia – Bangladesh, Burma, India, Indonesia, Singapore
The Armenian communities of Southeast Asia trace their origins to international trade routes. Merchant families have played an important role in these communities for centuries. Many unique aspects of this community make the paths to researching it quite varied.
For one, the Armenian communities of Southeast Asia were intimately tied to the British Empire and its world-wide business interests. As such, British colonial records offer an important source for information. Luckily, Liz Chater runs a useful blog devoted to the Armenians of India and beyond. I cannot say enough about the wonderful work she has done.
Chater suggests starting with the website for Families in British India Society (FIBIS). You can search their database for free and access additional services for a fee. You can find a number of Armenian related names. The British Library contains some of the Armenian baptism, marriage and burial records from India. Digitized images of the records can be accessed findmypast. A fee will be charged after a 14-day free trial.
There are other general resources available via websites and Chater has documented these as well as useful suggestions on her website. One can also contact the individual churches at the following addresses compiled by Chater.
Also, as stated in previous articles in this series, the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Family History Library contains a wealth of information related to Armenian church records. FamilySearch.org is in the midst of a long-term project to digitize their collection of records. The result will eventually be that instead of ordering microfilm, researchers will be able to view the records on-line at a local Family History Center or at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Some records are also available without restriction now through FamilySearch.org.
The following details the time periods for which individual church records are available through the LDS Family History Library:
- St. Haroutiun (Bangladesh) – 1831- 1981
- St. Hovhannes Garabed (Burma) – 1857-1981
- St. Bedros (Bombay, India) – 1917-1978
- Holy Church of Nazareth (Calcutta, India) – 1793-1982
- Armenian Apostolic Church (Madras, India) – 1829-1908
- Armenian Apostolic Church (Tangra, India) – 1793-1979
- St. Hovhannes (Jakarta, Indonesia) – 1836-1964
- St. Kevork (Surabaya, Indonesia) – 1927-1976
- St. Krikor Lusavorich (Singapore) – 1827-1976
Unfortunately, the images of many of these early records are very difficult to read. In addition, the naming conventions can seem odd to those unfamiliar with this type of work. Nonetheless, they are an excellent primary source.
Previously, I have not mentioned the role memorial books (“houshamadyan”) for different locales can play in genealogy. Houshamadyan.org has a wonderful bibliography of the memorial books compiled by Mihran Minassian.
Many of these books contain detailed information and biographies of natives of the specific village, town or district. They supply a wealth of information, not only on specific people, but also on general Armenian village life. In the case of India, there are some wonderfully detailed sources, specifically Mesrovb Jacob Seth’s massive tome “Armenians in India.”
|Saint Mary’s Armenian Church, Chennai
60 Armenian Street
|Saint John the Baptist Armenian Church, Chinsurah
|Holy Resurrection Armenian Church Dhaka
4 Armenian Street
|The Armenian Chapel, Delhi
Armenian Cemetery Rama Park
|Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth, Kolkata
2 Armenian Street
|Saint Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church, Kolkata
41B North Range,
|Saint Peter’s Armenian Church, Mumbai
89 Nagindas Master Road
|Saint Mary’s Armenian Church, Saidabad
Girbijapara, P.O. Khagra
|Armenian Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator Singapore
60 Hill Street
|Holy Trinity Armenian Church, Tangra
2 South Tangra Road
|Yangon Armenian Church
66 Bo Aung Kyaw Street
The Armenian communities in what is now the Republic of Serbia date to at least the 17th century. A surviving parish register covering Belgrade and Petrovaradin was located in the Armenian Catholic Mekhitarist Monastery of Vienna, Austria (manuscript #1338). The register of sacraments begins in 1732 and continues to 1931 in some cases. Given the importance of the Mekhitarist order and its extensive libraries in both Vienna and Venice, it is hoped more gems like this are found and made available. Microfilmed in 1981, the LDS Family History Library also contains the records of the former Yugoslavia.
One of the other interesting sources from the archives of the Mekhitarist order is a student roster from the Mourad-Raphael College of Venice. It begins with students who graduated in 1841 and continues into the 1890’s. While the form includes space for the names of the mother and father of the student, it is rarely filled in. However, the birthplace and years enrolled in the college are typically shown. The great majority of students were from Constantinople [Istanbul], but also occasionally from the Black Sea region and even less frequently elsewhere.
This article is part of a continuing series documenting the available records for research into one’s Armenian family roots. Part I in the series supplied a historical background on the Armenian genealogy movement as well as specific records available for Syria. In Part 2, records from Lebanon and Israel were detailed. Part 3 covered the records of Greece and Jordan. Southeast Asia and Serbia were covered in Part 4.
It has now been five years since I first wrote about the use of Ottoman-era population registers in Armenian genealogical research. What began as a limited effort at learning more about the family of my grandfather, from the Western Armenian village of Sakrat in the district of Palu, has turned into extensive research to delve as deeply into what is possible today and what might be in the future.
It is fair to assume that for most Armenian-Americans, like myself, the records pertaining to Western Armenia are of the highest interest, but many share the misconceived notion that all records pertaining to land now part of the Republic of Turkey have been destroyed and nothing more can be learned there about our family histories. But this is not entirely the case.
As was stated in part 1 of this series, new and important information about Armenians living within the Ottoman Empire is continually coming to light.
In part 2 of this series, I explained the extent of available Ottoman population registers for Palestine and in particular Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the same Ottoman-era information has not been made available in Turkey. The government of Turkey only allows access to Ottoman population registers, accessible in Istanbul and Ankara, for periods prior to 1880. Most of what is available for Armenian-inhabited areas are from even earlier time periods (mostly from 1830 to 1860). This makes it all the more difficult for Armenians, who are curious to uncover their family roots. Bridging the enormous 75-year gap between the available records and our recorded family histories is a nearly insurmountable task. And to add yet another layer of complication: the population registers list only men.
Yet despite these limitations, the information contained in the registers is valuable on many levels. My most extensive discussion of what can be achieved with this information can be found on Houshamadyan’s website. There, I was able to demonstrate the method for rebuilding family trees from the Armenian village of Hazari in the Chmshgadzak district. While the available records for Hazari made it somewhat unique, there are other locations offering similar opportunities.
It is indisputable that these registers have changed what is possible for Armenian genealogy and should the post-1900 data become available, even more can be achieved.
Last February, I detailed the Turkish government’s decision to release a new document called “Alt ÜSt Soy Belgesi̇.” The document, available to each Turkish citizen, will show their lineage as far back as has been linked through the government system. In general, current citizens have a greater ability to access information. This is not only an important development, but also the release of the “Alt ÜSt Soy Belgesi̇” may also signal a willingness to release the last Ottoman population registers upon which they are presumably based. This is long overdue as it has been over 100 years and other countries make such information freely available (for example, the U.S. releases census information after 72 years). The implications for uncovering Armenian ancestry have, thus far, been varied for a number of reasons, which I detail in greater depth in my article.
Before moving on from the available Ottoman records, it should be mentioned that a general search of the archives catalog can also yield results about particular families. Some of the more interesting finds are the photographs.
Beyond the Ottoman records, there do exist a number of Armenian church records. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) microfilmed the records that were available at the time in 1980. The records are cataloged on familysearch.org and can be accessed through the LDS Family History Library.
Unfortunately, Armenian Apostolic Church records have survived essentially for Istanbul and its environs. However, for Istanbul, the information is rich with the sacraments as well as a number of censuses. These censuses appear to be copies of the original Ottoman registers, so for these areas, we have more information available to us.
Outside of Istanbul, the baptismal records from St. Krikor Lusavorichchurch of Gesaria [Kayseri] are available from 1902. There are also limited records from the church in Iskenderun from after the genocide. I have made great use of the Gesaria records in particular, even for periods after the genocide. For example, just this past month I learned of an Aghjayan family that continued to live in our ancestral village until at least the 1940’s. This was previously unknown to my family and has quickly become a new avenue for my personal research.
There are many other interesting items from the Patriarchate of Istanbul that were microfilmed and included in the LDS collection. One example is the “aristocratic contributors to the vartabedner [unmarried priests] of the monasteries of Lim and Gdoutz (1786-1810).” These sorts of records are ripe for more thorough research.
The midwife records from Aintab were already described in part 2 of this series. However, a register of Aintab baptisms from 1818 to 1825 was located in the Catholicosate of Cilicia archives in Antelias by Khatchig Mouradian. Thus, I still retain hope that more such records exist, but have just not come to light yet.
The records of the Armenian Catholic Church are also available. Beyond the Istanbul vicinity, there exist records for St. Terez church of Angora [Ankara] dating to 1830. While records for the Armenian Catholic church of Mardin only exist beginning in 1919. Still, as already noted, the post-Genocide records can also yield important results.
It is worth noting again the important role played by the memorial books for numerous historic Armenian towns and villages. Diaporan institutions also can be an important resource for your research. For example, Project Save’s photographic archives, the previously mentioned Houshamadyan website and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) all contain interesting resources that can add both a greater understanding of the life of our ancestors as well as specific information on family members. As just one example, similar genealogy wheels like those used in the article on Hazari can be found in the NAASR archives as well as those of the Armenian Museum of America.
One final note, in 2015 I was able to locate a previously unknown part of my family still living in Turkey. The only way to locate these relatives, separated from us through the trauma of the genocide, was through DNA testing. The window of opportunity is rapidly closing to repair the rupture caused by the Genocide and we must make use of all the modern methods available.
This article is part of a continuing series documenting the available records for research into one’s Armenian family roots. Part I in the series supplied a historical background on the Armenian genealogy movement as well as specific records available for Syria. In Part 2, records from Lebanon and Israel were detailed. Part 3 covered the records of Greece and Jordan. Southeast Asia and Serbia were covered in Part 4. The available information from the Republic of Turkey was explored in Part 5.
The Armenian community of Egypt dates back over 1000 years, though the available records are for more recent periods. In 1906/7, an Armenian census was conducted for Cairo. Over 4000 Armenians are recorded in the census, approximately 25% of them having been born in Egypt.
Through a volunteer effort by members of the Armenian Genealogy Facebook group this census has been subscribed and submitted for inclusion on FamilySearch.org. The hope is this will be the first of many such endeavors. As the database of transcribed records grows, so will the ability to link individuals and families across those records.
The census contains information on the relationship to the head of household, the maiden name for women, occupation, age, birthplace, year of immigration, marital status, citizenship, and residence. The following is a list of the top 10 birthplaces outside of Egypt:
- Constantinople [Istanbul] 1177
- Gesaria [Kayseri] 384
- Arapgir 262
- Evereg [Develi] 129
- Sepasdia [Sivas] 119
- Smyrna [Izmir] 112
- Agn [Kemaliye] 95
- Haleb [Aleppo] 84
- Van 77
- Dikranagerd [Diyarbakir] 49
The Armenian Apostolic church records for Cairo (St. Krikor Lusavorich church) date from only 1893. However, those for Zagazig, Egypt (St. Asdvadzadzin church) begin in 1864 and Armenian Catholic church records can found for even earlier periods. The church records for Alexandria, Egypt are available beginning in the mid-1800’s.
All of these records, as previously stated, can be found at the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). They can be accessed most easily at the library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In this series, I will not address the libraries and government archives of the Republic of Armenia which undoubtedly contain valuable information for genealogical research. Instead, I will focus on what has been made available through the LDS Family History Library. Thousands of images are now available freely through FamilySearch.org.
It could take a lifetime to review the tens of thousands of images that are now available online. Soon after the independence of Armenia, Gagik Dumanian led efforts to preserve the genealogically relevant material found in Armenia. The first roll was filmed in September of 1993. The project was completed in 2002.
It would be impossible to detail completely all that is available, but, in general, the recording of sacraments as well as various census and land records can be found. Many of the records, particularly the census and land records, are in Russian.
While the church records date back centuries in some cases, they are identified in different ways within the catalog. A complete index is unavailable and the records are organized in such a way that makes it very difficult to locate any specific individual or family. To truly be useful, the significant work must be undertaken to transcribe the information into a searchable database. Nonetheless, the existence and easy accessibility of these records is a major accomplishment.
One source that has yet to come to light is the original registers from the 1897 Russian Imperial Census. Both the time frame and the geographic area covered make this census important. Completed 20 years prior to upheavals caused by the Genocide and World War I, this census would supply an important link in family histories. In addition, regions such as the Kars Oblast, now part of the Republic of Turkey, were included in the enumeration.
From the perspective of the Diaspora, the records of the late 1940’s repatriation to Soviet Armenia are particularly interesting. Those arriving from the United States, Syria, Lebanon, Greece, Egypt, France, as well as other areas, are well documented.
On Jan. 21, 1949, the S.S. Sobieski set sail from New York City with 162 Armenians on board heading to Soviet Armenia. On the ship were Asadour Antaramian, a native of the town of Peri in the Charsanjak district of Kharpert, his wife and two children. Two of their sons had already left for Armenia on a previous ship sailing from the United States. The record of their departure and arrival can be found as confirmation of the journey.
On a personal note, reviewing the records of those who were scheduled to travel from France included an Aghjayan that was previously unknown to me. Peniamin, son of Sarkis Aghjayan and Isgouhi Satulmushian, was born in Gesaria [Kayseri] on Aug. 15, 1913. The close proximity to the hometown of my Aghjayan clan makes it highly likely that Peniamin was a relative. Confusingly, records seem to indicate that Peniamin became a naturalized citizen of France in 1950, thus implying that he was never able to repatriate. The documents mention him having three sons: Roger, George and Jacques. Their years of birth imply that they could still be alive. Unfortunately, all of my efforts to locate them remain unsuccessful thus far.
This article is part of a continuing series documenting the available records for research into one’s Armenian family roots. Part I in the series supplied a historical background on the Armenian genealogy movement as well as specific records available for Syria. In Part 2, records from Lebanon and Israel were detailed. Part 3 covered the records of Greece and Jordan. Southeast Asia and Serbia were covered in Part 4. The available information from the Republic of Turkey was explored in Part 5. Part 6 dealt with Egypt and Armenia.
This will be the final installment of the series on the resources available for tracing your Armenian family roots. There remain a few important regions that have thus far not been mentioned. I will do so briefly here before discussing places I deem particularly significant for their lack of available records.
The Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) contains important Armenian church records from Vienna and Trieste. Some of these records date to the 1700s. The documents are not solely the recording of sacraments, but also some census records as well as family genealogies. For example, the following image is of the elaborate family tree of Kerop Pakradian and his wife, Garine Keleshian.
The Armenian community of Poland dates back over five centuries. Over the centuries, the community has been subjected to numerous trauma and challenges. Yet, even today, there are those that retain their Armenian identity from these early immigrants. I recall being surprised when one of my college classmates told me of his Polish Armenian roots, a grandmother or great-grandmother as I recall. The LDS Family History Library contains wedding records from the mid-16th century to the mid-17th century. The language utilized in these documents is stated to be Armeno-Kipchak, a Turkic language brought with the Armenians from Crimea in the 13th century.
There are also records from a region now part of the Ukraine but previously part of Poland. Specifically, there are records from early in the 18th century for the Armenian Catholic Church of Stanislau, Poland which is now known as Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine.
While there has possibly been an Armenian presence in Cyprus for millennia, the available records through the LDS Family History Library begin only in 1877. Many of the early records are difficult to read as the quality of the images is poor. As an important post-genocide Armenian community, the more recent records are definitely of interest to a great many people.
The register of sacraments for St. Krikor Lusavorich Armenian Catholic Church of Budapest is available beginning in 1923. I have not reviewed these records personally, but they can be accessed at the LDS Family History Library.
Hidden away in our church basements, closets or simply lost over time are valuable documents yet to be preserved properly.
Clearly, I have not detailed every single available resource for researching Armenian family roots. But that was never my objective. The most important concept to understand is that while many records are missing or destroyed, there are still many that remain, many easily accessible.
Yet, there are still significant gaps. In particular, Armenian church records from France were never microfilmed by the LDS church. I am confident that important records can be found, assuming they have been cared for, in the church archives. Many Armenians married in France prior to coming to the U.S. In addition, census records would be fascinating and could potentially yield previously unknown information about our families.
The Armenian community of Iran has existed for centuries and served as an important bridge between the homeland and the Southeast Asian diasporan communities. Yet, we do not have any Armenian church records from Iran available. It would seem that we should have learned our lesson by now – the only guarantee to preservation for these records is duplication and accessibility.
Which leads me to the final point I wish to leave you with. Only one Armenian church in the U.S. has its records available through the LDS Family History Library. Hidden away in our church basements, closets or simply lost over time are valuable documents yet to be preserved properly. The Armenian Church of Our Saviour in Worcester is the lone exception.
As just one example, buried among these records was a 1929 church census. What makes this census so unique and important is that it was undertaken before the split in the community and at a time when many of the first immigrants were still alive. The census contains not only the names of family members but also their parents’ names as well as women’s maiden names. Moreover, birthplaces are described in more detail than other records one might reference, thus making it the only source available with this level of information.
How many more such records remain unknown, inaccessible and improperly preserved?