Family of Priests: The Der Manuelians of Sakrat Palu Across Two Centuries

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The author with his daughter Sarah at what remains of the altar of the St. Toros Church in Sakrat, where his ancestors served as priests for more than 150 years.

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for the Armenian Weekly about the Georgetown girls, and the experiences of my grandmother and great-grandmother in that episode of Armenian immigrant history. Here, I wish to detail another part of my family history, that of the Der Manuelian family of the village of Sakrat in the district of Palu.

Researching one’s roots, in the case of Armenians, is an effort in futility. Often, only the tragic aspects of our history are to be documented. With sparse records and little in the way of family narratives, the best we can do is document those who were fortunate enough to have survived the genocide and arrived on these shores.

Like so many other families, half of the Der Manuelian descendants live in Armenia and half in the diaspora. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to reconnect with my family in Armenia. Since then, I have been slowly documenting the many relationships of this rather large extended family.

Years ago, I had documented as best I could my own family tree back to my great-great grandfather Sarkis Der Manuelian. That was as far back as I could go until this summer.

As the name clearly indicates, the Der Manuelians descend from a priest named Manouel/Manuel. I had found reference to the priest of Sakrat, Krikor Der Manouelian, in Teotig’s important book about the Armenian clergy killed during the genocide (Goghgota Hai Hogevorakanutian), but I did not know my exact relationship to Der Krikor.

A friend had sent me records from the 1840 Ottoman census of the Palu district. For various reasons, I had not had a chance to really examine what was included. A couple of weekends ago, I was reading a book that made me think of these records and what they may contain. Looking through the images, I found the village of Sakrat. Since that was the extent of my ability to read Ottoman Turkish, I asked the editor of the Armenian Weekly, Khatchig Mouradian, to help decipher the data.

What we found was the listing of Armenian males in the village of Sakrat by family grouping as existed in 1840. The official count was 122 Armenian males in 23 households. However, one number was double counted and thus there were actually 123 males existing in the census.

The heads of households were typically described physically (age, moustache, beard, blond, gray, tall, short, etc.), as well as, sometimes, with their grown sons. The following is the distribution of Armenian males by five-year age grouping:

Age Group, Males

1-5, 24

6-10, 18

11-15, 5

16-20, 20

21-25, 5

26-30, 9

31-35, 8

36-40, 5

41-45, 8

46-50, 2

51-55, 7

56-60, 2

61-65, 1

66-70, 4

71-75, 4

76-80, 1

81-85, 0

86-90, 0

91-95, 0

96-100, 0

It is interesting to note that over half of the males recorded were under the age of 20. Even with such a small sample, this is atypical of the later Ottoman registration records. The average number of males per household was over five. It is fascinating to see how rather large extended families across three or four generations were often included in the same household.

From a genealogical perspective, the lack of a surname would make it nearly impossible to link those I knew of with those contained in the census. Yet, the census did also mention the occupation. Outside of the occasional mention of farmer, there was the priests’ family. As luck would have it, this was the exact family I was interested in, but how could I be sure this was the Der Manuelian family? Maybe another priest served Sakrat in 1840.

The priests’ family was given as follows in the census:

65) Minas the priest, son of Manoug the priest, age 77, middle height, white bearded

66) Hovannes, son of Minas, age 52, middle height, white beard, farmer

67) Babo, son of Minas, age 37, tall, black mustached

68) Garabed, son of Minas, age 32, middle height, blonde mustache

69) Baghdig, son of Minas, age 20

70) Sahag, son of Hovannes, age 20

71) Mano, son of Hovannes, age 18

72) Bedros, son of Krikor, age 7

73) Boghos, son of Krikor, age 3

74) Debo, son of Babo, age 3

75) Thomas, son of Garabed, age 1

76) Krikor, son of Minas, age 42, long black mustache

While it seemed likely that these were the males of my family as they existed in 1840, how could I be sure? Khatchig was fairly confident, but I was looking for additional proof.

I decided to review the information in Teotig’s book. While I had recalled the name of the priest, Krikor, and his year of birth, 1865, I had forgotten that the book mentioned his father was Bedros and that he had also been a priest. Thus, with almost absolute certainty, it can now be determined that with the passing of Minas, his son Krikor had become priest of the village. In addition, Krikor’s son Bedros (who was 7 years old in the 1840 census) would follow in the family tradition as priest. In 1865, Bedros would have a son and name him after his father, Krikor.

With Minas having been born around 1763, we can assume his father Manoug was born prior to 1740. While the originator of this family, Manouel, is still unknown to us, we can now see a near 200-year history of the priests of Sakrat, the Der Manuelian family.

By 1915, the descendants of Manoug and Minas had expanded to 12 households per family tradition. This does not seem entirely unlikely given the size of the family in 1840, as well as the number of those who traveled to and from the United States prior to the genocide.

There is still the question of where my great-great grandfather Sarkis fits in this family tree. I do not know exactly when Sarkis was born, but most likely it was sometime between 1846 and 1855. Thus, his father is surely listed in this 1840 census. The three most likely candidates are Baghdig (son of Minas), Sahag (son of Hovannes), or Mano (son of Hovannes).

From the census, it was common in Sakrat (as it was in many villages) for children to be named after their grandfathers or great-grandfathers. This is not a hard and fast rule, but was common enough so as to give some importance to it. My grandfather had a brother named Baghdig who was killed during the genocide. Baghdig, son of Minas, and my grandfather’s brother Baghdig are the only instances of this name occurring in my family that I have found. Thus, it is highly likely that my great-great grandfather Sarkis was the son of Baghdig and grandson of Minas.

There is another reason why I believe Baghdig is the most likely father of Sarkis. The Der Manouelians who came to the United States have another fascinating aspect to their history. As I noted, there were a number of men that came to the United States to work before returning to Sakrat with the money earned. Typically, before coming to the United States, they would marry and often times leave a pregnant wife in Sakrat. My great-grandfather was one of these men. He came in 1907 and returned to Sakrat in 1912, ultimately being murdered during the genocide.

A handful of these Der Manuelians became trapped in the U.S. when World War I broke out. From the available records, we can see that it took over five years before these men would learn the fate of their families.

Throughout the 1920’s, these men applied for U.S. citizenship. What is fascinating is that they clearly waited to do so until they knew of other Der Manuelians that had survived the genocide and were still in need, along with the thousands of others in the Near East. Repeatedly, these men would list children that were not their own, but instead were the children of their relatives. My own grandfather entered the U.S. pretending to be his uncle’s son.

In one particular case, a man found that his wife had survived but his two children had been killed or lost on the death march. He thus listed two other children on his naturalization papers. In an oft-cited court case, this inaccuracy was cause for revoking his citizenship.

There was something deeply emotional in reviewing this case. One begins to understand the depth of the effort to rescue the remnants of the genocide, and just one of the risks taken to do so.

In the court transcript, my grandfather states that Hovannes Der Manuelian was his 3rd or 4th cousin. I consider this as another indication that Baghdig is my ancestor and not Hovannes.

Over the years, I had heard of some Armenians obtaining Ottoman-era records, but never saw direct evidence. In fact, I had come to believe it near impossible and never imagined I would be so fortunate as to trace my family across nearly 200 years. Of course, even with previously unimagined access to records, the limitations in the data make it difficult to perform such research.

I suppose I have been so persistent in researching my family history precisely because I value so much what was taken away from Armenians. Mass murder and dispossession led to the severance of the link with our heritage. I feel very fortunate to have been able to recapture some of what was lost in the genocide, at least as it relates to my family’s history.

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George Aghjayan

George Aghjayan is the Director of the Armenian Historical Archives and the chair of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Central Committee of the Eastern United States. Aghjayan graduated with honors from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Actuarial Mathematics. He achieved Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries in 1996. After a career in both insurance and structured finance, Aghjayan retired in 2014 to concentrate on Armenian related research and projects. His primary area of focus is the demographics and geography of western Armenia as well as a keen interest in the hidden Armenians living there today. Other topics he has written and lectured on include Armenian genealogy and genocide denial. He is a board member of the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), a frequent contributor to the Armenian Weekly and Houshamadyan.org, and the creator and curator westernarmenia.weebly.com, a website dedicated to the preservation of Armenian culture in Western Armenia.

18 Comments

  1. What an interesting article, with your story, you did not only trace your ancestor you made us/me think about my own, and how far we can go to find our family tree and the sad, sad story of our people, how hard their lives were and how they survived and tried to help others and Now we are here reading, searching and hopefully someday taking back our STOLEN lands.. Good job and thank you George and Khatchig. Hilda Avedissian-Tokatli

    • Interesting article. Never thought it possible to findrecords of family ancestors in Armenia. My aunt was married to a family with the name DerManuelian. This was very interesting because of this tie. This was my aunt on my grandmothers side….she had the last namee Boyagian.

  2. I am fortunate in having my Maternal Grandfather Sarkis Kal Artinian from Evereg (now called Develi, Turkey) had the family tree down to 1760 for the Artinians living there. My Maternal Grandmother Horoup Semarjian/Semerjian Artinian also was born and raised in Evereg. Thanks to my cousin Mariam in Australia, I have the family tree back to back to my grandmother’s mother and father(1850s-1860s). One puzzling thing I wish I could find out is about my grandmother’s oldest sibling and sister Ecksah who had a husband with the last name of Mesropian. She had two children. The story was she perished with her children in the desert. Now I have been told her daughter Shousanig could have survived and had married an Odar (non-Armenian). I would love to find a way to see if this is true.

  3. George writes that he “had come to believe it near impossible and never imagined I would be so fortunate as to trace my family across nearly 200 years.”
    His “Georgetown Girls” narrative is further evidence that George always finds a way to take the locks off sealed documents no matter where they are, or how tightly sealed, or for how long they have been inaccessible. This is just another example of his astonishing ability to research, and bring the most obscure information into the light. And as Hilda Avedissian has written above, you have given us all hope and courage to continue in the search. Bravo, George, for taking your daughter with you. It is up to all of us to hand the torch to the next generation.

  4. Fascinating story! I remember reading Georgetown girls article George wrote. Thank you. By the way where Palu was located? I never heard of it before.

  5. George – that is so amazing – you are so lucky to have found these ancestors – persistence pays off. As you well know so many Armenians, including myself, can’t go beyond great-grandparents !

  6. Thank you for this wonderful article. Like you, I have a family of priests. I am lucky enough to have some information handed down by family members who were willing to talk about how we came to be in America. Like you, I also had a great-grandfather who came here to earn money for his family, but then went back and was killed along with his wife and some of his grandchildren. But, the family members who survived were resilient and proud. They kept the family going, and kept the history going so that we would never forget!

  7. Very interesting story writen by Mr.Aghjayan. I was fasinated because my heritage is also from Palu. I am a 1st generation Armenian-American, my Father Martin, & Grandfather Artin both from Palu; leaving only to escape the “draft” into the Ottoman army. Co-incedentally that would possibly place my Great-Great Grandfather Garabed at age 32 in 1840 as the “Garabed” in your list of males (#68)???????

  8. Dear George:
    Thank you for this amazing article!! My grandmother Aznive Vosganian & my Grandfather, Manoug Boranian were from Palu. Aznive’s father was also a priest. I only recently learned where exactly “Palou-Havov” is. Your article gives me some new hope to find some information about him. I know he was among the first killed in the village. Thank you again.

  9. George, Very interesting read as always from you. Your passion and desire to learn as much as is humanly possible about your forefathers is inspiring. Next time we speak in person, I will share with you my personal story doing research on the Sarafian side of my mother’s family who were from Huessing, Kharpet. 1.5 million is quite a large number. Each one had a story of their own to tell. It’s our job to make sure we never give up our fight. Keep the faith.

  10. All interesting, but when you think of the family name, shouldn’t there be a ‘Manuel’, or more properly, a ‘der Manvel’ somewhere in that list of der hayr’s? Just wondering.

  11. Anne Marie Boranian;

    If your grandfather was a priest in Havav, he would most likely have first been taken to Palou and placed in the Palou jail. They would have wanted to extract information from him before killing him. The following is primary documentation that I hold copyright to. Here is what the jail in Palou was like.

    “A horrible stench greeted us when հe opened the door. Thirty-five to forty men were in a cell that barely had space for fifteen people. Many of them, not having room to sit, were standing up. Another cell was even more unbearable. It was even darker, even more humid and filthy.”

    Here is where the bodies are. They were all axed to death. Remember, this is primary documentation.

    “I left and went to the valley behind the government building. From there, I climbed to the top of a small hill. The Armenian cemetery lay beyond that point, but I did not need to go any further. All the Armenian prisoners lay murdered in front of the hill, their clothing removed, their naked bodies thrown on top of each other.”

    If anyone has a relative from the Havav – Palou area whose name was Onnig and who had been at sea earlier in his life, contact me, I have a lot of information for you. He was held in this jail in Palou.
    The only Manoug I have information about in that area in 1915 is:
    Masnou Manoug, son of Gosdo, who was a villager of Husunovan.

  12. Hello George,

    I’m Assyrian from Turkey/Mardin/Kerburan and now I live in Australia/Sydney. I’ve been working hard on collecting information for my family tree. From what I know my grandmother’s family had migrated from Palu to my village kerburan in Mardin sometimes around 1850’s I guess. Palu is a district of Siirt just north of the Tigris river. I wonder if Palu you are talking about is the same town or in different location of East Turkey?

  13. George, this article is very interesting, so I have printed it out for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to learn of their heritage. I knew that there was a priest in the family some where, but could not find the connection. My in-laws were Avedis and Arshalooys DerManouelian. Keep up the good work!!

  14. Hi George, I was Googling my maternal grandma ‘s name “Der Manuelyan of Adapazar” hoping to find something about her and family , then i found your article. Palu and Adapazari are opposite side of the country so I don’t know if there is any relation. Anyway Her name was Hayganush( 1898), her sister Agavni and brother Yervant Der Manuelyan. I don’t know anything else about her family.

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