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
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.