I attended a genealogy conference in Calgary on the weekend. It was great to connect (and re-connect) with people who share a similar history and interest in their immigrant families. I met up with several people from my 2004 roots tour of Ukraine. It had been life-changing to walk the land of my grandparents, to imagine my mother playing near their windmill and to admire the industrious storks who still prefer the highest points for their huge nests.
Many conference attendees families lived in similar scattered villages of Eastern Europe—including the present-day countries of Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. These ethnic German families endured expropriation, collectivization, famine, war, exile, homelessness—often through Stalin’s terror and/or Hitler’s ambition. Others left earlier and were able to avoid the hellhole that Eastern Europe became in the twentieth century.
Some of these people, like my parents, chose to suppress their memories when they came to Canada. Others, lost touch with extended family members because of the extreme chaos of war. Documents and photographs were destroyed or lost. Family history could not be passed down to the next generation.
Now I have a confession to make. I haven't been overly interested in genealogy. All those dates and the impossible-to-decipher handwriting of old or foreign languages blurs my eyes and mind. I’m more interested in story and in what makes people tick. Genealogy is an incredibly useful tool for exploring the past—but for me, it's not an end in itself.
I very much appreciate the effort that genealogists put into gathering, organizing and translating the documents of the past. The old maps and maze of online data sources shine light on yesterdays otherwise swallowed up by the force of time. Family history is like a puzzle and finding all the pieces is one thing...but putting them into a complete picture...well that's the fun part.
While in Calgary, I attended workshops about East Prussia, about the EWZ files, about the 1930 purges and more. Dave Obee's talk about the Great Terror was especially engaging because my grandfather was arrested and shot in 1937. With enough research, and hopefully some travel, I'll continue to try and morph those dates and names into story. I'm grateful for groups like SGGEE who help me on my journey. These are my people.