Finding one’s Adam and Eve

Belarusian people start taking more interest in their genealogical roots
Drawing-up of family trees is the domain of the National Historical Archive. On the grounds of a written application, any person can work there autonomously and enjoy the fragrance of the Middle Ages to which some of the rare wax-sealed parchment documents in different languages that not everyone can understand date back. That is why, if faced with any difficulties, one can ask a specialist for help. The cost of one family tree is quite reasonable for an average family.

About 300 people a year apply to the historical archive for information on their ancestors. About 150 more citizens work in the archive independently. This means that every day the archive is visited by at least one new caller that is interested in who were his personal Adam and Eve. It is exciting to decipher the fanciful handwritings in the ancient muniments and certificates of birth. If one has time, of course.

People who are interested in history and their family’s past apply to the archive on the moral grounds. Their motivation to visit the archive originates not from vanity or love of fame, it is a conscious motivation.

— There are, to tell the truth, also curious cases, — shares his experience Sergey Rybchonok, Director of the Department of Scientific Use of Documents and Information of the National Historical Archive, one of the leading genealogists of the country. — Once there came a man who claimed being a descendant of the Radzivills. But there are no Radzivills left in Belarus. There are some in Lithuania where this is a wide-spread family name. As for the descendants of the “true” Radzivills, they live in Poland and England.

Nowadays in the World Wide Web there are a lot of sites with plenty of information on the origin of many families. In the BY-net, however, there is the only site that fills this gap — Belarusian Nobility Assembly — http://nobility.by. On the web site one can easily find directions on how to find one’s relatives, draw up one’s family tree and where to find documents about one’s ancestors. By the way, according to the surveys, 54 million of Americans look via Internet for their relatives many of whom come from Belarus.

According to Sergey Rybchonok, one can search for one’s relatives using the name of the population centre where one’s ancestors used to live or using one’s family name. The second way is very time-consuming. It suits people with rare family names, noble people and clergymen on whom a lot of documents have survived. In case of a wide-spread peasant family name one’s chances are practically equal to zero. There are more documents on the illustrious names — sometimes it is even possible to find a complete family tree that was once carefully drawn up. Extremely difficult is the search in the eastern regions of Belarus. There has remained very little data on the families, because at those times family names were not mentioned in documents, but replaced by the first name and middle name.

One should start one’s search with a number of special reference books.

— When we have visitors, I always show them an outstanding book — "Blue Almanac", — says Sergey Rybchonok. — All the eminent families were described in it. As far back as one hundred years ago. If you are not there, you are nowhere.

However, it is not so depressing by and large. The documents of the National Historical Archive have not yet been studied in full. By the way, in Belarus a new “Blue Almanac” is being issued which is called "The Belarusian Nobility’s Book of Heraldry". The first volume includes the family trees of the noble families of Minsk province whose family names begin with the letter “A”. Now the archive staff is working on the second volume with family trees to the letter “B”.

There are many Belarusians who have earned world fame. Is there anyone who doesn’t know Gromyko, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR? By the way, he was from a noble family, according to King of Arms of Belarusian Nobility Assembly, Vladislav Veryovkin-Shelyuta. He belonged to the Gomel nobility, though he wrote everywhere that he came from a peasant family. In fact, the old Gromykos were not village peasants, but a noble family. In the XIX century their family grew poor and was not “re-registered” as nobility.

Belarusian Nobility Assembly is the oldest association of nobleman in the former Soviet Union dating back to 1988. In order to become its member, one should have a noble agnate in one’s family tree.

— We have no distinguishing marks, — says Veryovkin-Shelyuta. — It’s just that ideally a nobleman is a person with solid moral principles, responsible and deedful.

"Simple sincere faith, piety, hospitability and patriotism have always been characteristic features of a nobleman. Alcohol abuse and disorderliness are rare among noblemen”, this is how a typical nobleman from the vicinage of Lida is described by one of the ethnographers of the XIX century.

The nobleman could be not very rich, but in his civil rights he equalled the King himself. Nowadays all the citizens of the country are formally equal. And this is not the origin that counts, but rather whether you remember your family, those who gave you life.

Viktar Korbut
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