WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)— The Armenian Genealogy Conference will take place April 9-10 in Watertown. The conference, which grew out of the Armenian Genealogy group on Facebook, will feature several speakers on various topics regarding Armenian genealogy, history, geography, and presentations on different organizations and initiatives.
George Aghjayan, a retired actuary and one of the conference organizers, noted that the study of Armenian genealogy has grown substantially over the last decade, and that organizing a conference was a necessary step. “Advances in technology have allowed access to information previously thought unattainable,” said Aghjayan, who hopes that the conference can become an annual event.
Aghjayan is a frequent contributor to the Armenian Weekly. His primary area of focus is the demographics of Western Armenia (westernarmenia.weebly.com). “It is a natural progression to hold annual conferences for those desiring to advance knowledge of their Armenian roots. For so long, Armenians were told no records exist, everyone has passed away, and other messages of futility. I think many Armenians will be surprised at how much is possible in repairing the rupture in our family histories caused by the genocide,” he told the Armenian Weekly.
Aghjayan has been working with Tracy Rivest Keeney and Mark Arslan to organize the conference, which is co-sponsored by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), Project Save Armenian Photograph Archives, Inc., Houshamadyan, the Armenian Museum of America (AMA), and Hamazkayin Boston. During the weekend, participants—both beginners and advanced—will learn how to carry out genealogical research specific to Armenians, and will take part in workshops, during which experienced volunteers will help answer questions, teach how to get started, and how to go beyond existing research.
“The recent proliferation and acceptance of social media has allowed a level of collaboration on genealogical and historical research never before possible,” Arslan told the Armenian Weekly. He also noted that the Armenian Genealogy Facebook group has brought together people from the Armenian Diaspora worldwide, as well as the Republic of Armenia—individuals who share a passionate interest in learning more about their Armenian families and heritage. “The collective knowledge of our online community is amazing. Everyone brings their own special talents to uncover genealogical treasures from the primary records online and in archives, as well as shares their own family anecdotes, memories, and experiences,” he said.
Arslan is one-fourth Armenian and has been avidly researching his family history (Armenian, British, French, and German) since 1968, specializing in the records of the U.S. and Canada. He founded the Armenian DNA Project in 2005, as well as the Armenian Immigration Project in 2011.
Tracy Keeney, a professional genealogist and the creator and administrator of the Armenian Genealogy group on Facebook, said that while Armenians long had a difficult time tracing their family roots, today it has become much easier. “At some point in our lives, most people feel a tug at the heart to reach into the past and connect with those who came before us. For those of Armenian descent, that was a seemingly hopeless quest for decades. But that is simply no longer the case,” she told the Armenian Weekly.
Tracy began her research in 2013 with only the 4 names of her maternal great-grandparents. By 2015, she had discovered and verified 537 other family members, going back 3 more generations to approximately 1820, and has had contact with 43 newly discovered relatives, with whom she’s been able to exchange information, family stories, family trees, and photographs.
“That’s the significance of this conference. Because of Mark’s work, because of George’s work—who both do this research voluntarily, by the way—because of Vahé Tachjian’s [of Houshamadyan] work, the walls are coming down, fast and with a passion. Armenians around the world are longing to find traces of their ancestors, to learn their stories, the name of their ancestral village, etc. They feel a pull—like the voices of their ancestors are calling from the dust. This conference will help them answer that call,” said Keeney.
Historian Vahé Tachjian is one of the conference speakers, and will give an overview on Armenian history and geography and of the Houshamadyan Project—a project “to Reconstruct Ottoman Armenian Town and Village Life.” Tachjian is currently the project director and chief editor of houshamadyan.org, which was created in 2011 by the Berlin-based Houshamadyan not-for-profit Association, founded in 2010.
During the conference, Stephen Kurkjian, an acclaimed investigative reporter, 40-year veteran of the Boston Globe, and founding member of its investigative Spotlight Team, will join Janet Achoukian Andreopoulos in highlighting the unlimited potential that DNA research can have for Armenians exploring their individual roots when wedded with genealogical research. Andreopoulos’s passion to expand her own family tree was reignited at the onset of the internet, as she found herself searching for any and all descendants from Evereg. Her research materials started with books, pamphlets, and personal accounts from telephone calls all around the world. This quickly expanded to include online resources such as Ancestry.com and Facebook. Her tree has now expanded into other regions and contains more than 25,000 individuals. Andreopoulos is particularly interested in using DNA testing to search for more connections and helping people reunite with their long lost relatives.
The conference will take place at the Armenian Museum of America, at 65 Main St. in Watertown. A special group rate is available at the Crowne Plaza in Newton, less than a mile from the conference location.
A special dinner has also been planned for participants, featuring a live band playing traditional Armenian music. The dinner will take place Saturday evening at the Papken Suni Agoump in Watertown. Participants will also be able to visit open houses at various locations of Armenian interest on Sunday. The full schedule of the weekend’s events can be found here.
Participants are asked to register no later than March 5. Registration is free and can be done at armeniangenealogyconference.com/registration/.