[b]Exploring the history of their ancestors, Belarusian writers make curious literary discoveries, while augmenting our knowledge of our Fatherland’s past[/b]The history of any country is actually the history of ordinary people. Since Belarus gained independence, interest has grown in our past and in our ancestors, with books detailing the coats of arms of Belarusian nobility proving particularly popular. Everyone secretly hopes to find themselves related to those who valiantly defended our native lands from enemies, under these coats of arms. Their surnames are widespread across Belarus and beyond. Besides making history far and wide, those noble duke and magnate families owned villages, farmsteads, manors and towns. Surely, some of us must be related?
Of course, knowledge of your family tree is not just self-satisfying. As the famous Belarusain poet and Editor-in-Chief of Polymya magazine, Nikolay Metlitsky, said:
‘For the glory of our Fatherland
Thoroughly and earnestly from year to year
The soul is gathering grain by grain
Its treasure — geneology’
Around the world, increasing numbers of people are seeking out their family trees, creating the ‘Fatherland’s genealogical tree’.
We’re all related
Writer Vladimir Lipsky was one of the first to explore his family’s past, diligently examining archive documents to discover new facts. He also wrote to contemporaries with the same surname, before compiling his 1998 book: A True Story about Your and My Family Tree. His research contains much of interest about the roots of various families, the origin of their surnames and coats of arms once connected with the noble family of Lipsky.
Asking Mr. Lipsky what inspired his research, he muses, “Sooner or later, we each begin to ponder our roots, asking ourselves about our ancestors.” While we chatted, he drew a simple diagram for me, explaining, “If this dot represents a person, at the centre of the circle, their two closest relatives (their parents) are located in the upper orbit. The next orbit has four names: grandmothers and grandfathers. Each further orbit doubles, bearing 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 and 512 names. Finally, 1,024 names are in the tenth orbit. We are each part of a great family, with many sub-branches. These relatives didn’t live in prehistoric or Biblical times. Those in the tenth orbit were born some 300 years ago, passing their baton of life to us. They are responsible for bringing us into this world.”
He asserts that it makes more sense to place our predecessors above us in the diagram than below — as if creating a ‘sky of ancestors’ rather than placing them as our ‘roots’. Our Slavonic ancestors saw their dead relatives as spirits guiding everyday life so it’s intriguing to learn of our divine protectors.
Mr. Lipsky continues to explore his geneology and, in 1999, published Mother — The Prayer of a Son (decicated to the 100th anniversary of his mother’s birth). Maria Adamovna Yanushevskaya was born in the village of Veliky Les, near Zhlobin, to a noble family. In 1998, on visiting the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg to collect the International Albert Schweitzer Prize (for his charity work helping child victims of the Chernobyl tragedy) he couldn’t help but recall his own mother’s principles. In his book, he writes: ‘Mother! You were with me on that day, as I felt in each cell of my body. I also understood that you know Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy. This 20th century philosopher believed in ‘reverence’ for all life: the universal ethics of love. He had faith in our eternal responsibility for everything living on the planet: devotion to our own life and to that of others. My God! These were the moral precepts of my mother! She taught me to value each moment on Earth while having faith in life and performing good deeds’.
His nostalgic yet touching story of his mother is filled with tenderness, warmth, wisdom and kindness. Another extract reads: ‘Mother would boil potatoes and throw them into a deep clay bowl before placing them in the frying pan, on a special stand. We’d sit around the pan of full-flavoured, crispy potatoes, each eating, with the crispness ‘crunching beyond our ears’. My God, my mouth waters at the thought of such an evening. I must admit that I’ve eaten at luxurious restaurants in New York, Chicago, Mexico, Brussles, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Insbruk, Vienna, Sofia, Berlin and Warsaw, being served delicacies. However, none made my mouth water like my mother’s potatoes: cooked in the open air in Shovkavichi [his native village in Gomel Region’s Rechitsa District]. Fried by my mother in a cast-iron frying pan, they were the best!’
The story aroused great interest and was republished in 2004, in Live Today. Moreover, Mr. Lipsky published a more general book in 2006, entitled We: A Story about Our Surnames.
He has found much of interest in his own family tree. In particular, his remote ancestor — state official Ivan Tyukhai-Lipsky — was given a manorial estate in the early 16th century, by local Duke Fiodor Ivanovich Yaroslavovich, in reward for his faithful service in Pinsk District. The estate was located near the village of Alpen, just 5km from David-Gorodok.
His book tells us: ‘In this way, new family ‘springs’ are rooted in one land. New dynasties are born, sprouting green shoots even now. Sadly, these descendants are absolutely unaware of their venerable past’.
Of course, Mr. Lipsky is well aware of his own family history, with relatives residing in Belarus, as well as in Germany, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. “I found four people bearing the surname Lipsky in the huge Americana Encyclopaedia, which is published in New York,” he tells me with pride. His book on genealogy was republished in 2010 under the symbolic title of We’re All Related.
Prototypes of famous comedy
Exploring his family tree, Mr. Lipsky made a literary discovery regarding the comedic play Pinsk Gentry, written by Vincent Dunin-Marcinkiewicz. The classic has long been studied in Belarusian schools, with performances staged by director Nikolay Pinigin in Minsk and Warsaw. Some doubted Dunin-Marcinkiewicz’s authorship, finding it unexpected, wondering whether his characters were drawn from other sources.
While researching his family, Mr. Lipsky found an archive of materials from Stolin District which included documents relating to residents of Alpen village (or Olpen). In Pinsk Gentry, events are said to take place in ‘O’, while one of the noble characters is Ivan Tyukhai-Lipsky. “I’ve been to that village,” Mr. Lipsky notes. “It’s a remarkable place, filled with interesting people. One elderly lady told me that Alpen is the second Warsaw. In fact, the folder I found detailed a criminal case from the remote past which involved Tyukhai-Lipskie, who lived in Alpen. The case lasted thirty years.”
The incident was as follows: one Tyukhai-Lipsky, a Catholic, fell in love with a young Orthodox girl, seeking her hand in marriage. Despite agreeing to her wishes to have their children baptised within the Orthodox faith, he raised them as Catholics. A case was built against him — political in essence. However trivial this may seem, it characterises important historical facts from our past, crystallised through the history of one family.
At that time, the second partition of the Rzech Pospolita took place, with Belarusian lands joining Russia. Local people were forced to accept the Orthodox faith, since it was that of the Russian Tsar; state policy inteferred in the life of an ordinary Polesie family.
“Tyukhai-Lipsky’s children — baptised as Catholics — were brought from Polesie to Minsk three times for ‘reassurance’,” he explains. “Documents exist on their ‘interviews’. They were brought under guard by horse, travelling some three hundred versts (Russian equivalent of about two thirds of a mile). Reading about the case, I realised that, in Minsk, the children were taken to the Orthodox consistory, where attemps were made to persuade them to convert. My remote ancestor was a Catholic bishop there and his secretary was… Wincenty Dunin-Marcinkiewicz. Before seeing the bishop, the children told the secretary everything. This is how the playwright learnt about the village of Alpen and Tyukhai-Lipsky. I’ve even found two poems by Dunin-Marcinkiewicz, which directly testify to him going to Alpen. As censorship existed during the rule of the Tsar, he couldn’t criticise the regime, so he settled for gentle mocking — not of arrogant local gentry but of Russian judges. He was also a member of the gentry.”
Mr. Lipsky jokes that he once thought he originated from the marshes but has now found his noble coat of arms in the archives. This surely inspires hope for others researching their family tree. In particular, Anatoly Stetskevich-Cheboganov’s I’m Your Son has aroused an amazing reponse countrywide, among genuine researchers and youngsters.
Chronicling Belarusian nobility
Family roots, like genes, bring us, sooner or later, into ‘new orbits’ of understanding regarding our place in this world. Anatoly Stetskevich-Cheboganov, who boasts noble family roots reaching back centuries, is known in Belarus as an entrepreneur, owning one of the CIS’ largest holdings — making specialised clothes. He is also a patron of the arts, having won high awards from the Russian Orthodox Church for his charity work. However, few know that, since 1990, he has been researching his genealogy and that of other ancient Belarusian families connected with his own. Using Mr. Lipsky’s orbit system, it becomes clear that Mr. Stetskevch has found relatives in each of those noble families. Moreover, he shares common relatives with Vladimir Lipsky.
Early on, Mr. Stetskevich-Cheboganov (son of former partisan commander Vasily Cheboganov) had a difficult life, being born in the village of Zasmuzhie, in Lyuban District, in post-war 1946. He was raised by his grandmother, Maria Alexandrovna (Karafa-Korbut in girlhood), who taught him to read and to write long before he went to school. He graduated from Lyuban secondary school with a gold medal, before going to Leningrad Institute of Precise Mechanics and Optics. He later worked in the defence industry (as an electronic engineer and a designer of rockets), as well as holding various leading posts at Belarusian agro-industrial firms. He attended the Higher School of Management — under the USSR State Agro-Industrial Committee (Moscow) — and the School of World Economics and English Lanaguge (England). As time passed, he set up his own business. Now, he is the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Directors (Stetskevich Group).
In the first volume in the Chronicle of Belarusian Gentry series (over ten editions are planned in total), the author — who is now a member of the Union of Writers of Belarus — tells his readers stories of his mother, Alexandra Mikhailovna, as well as of his grandmother and other relatives who inspired his great desire to research his family. The first to be explored are his close relatives — the Stetskevichs and Satskevich-Stetskevichs (of the ‘Kościesza’ coat of arms). He also tells us of the ‘Korczak’ coat of arms of Karafa-Korbuts. Mr. Stetskevich-Cheboganov’s direct ancestor was a member of the Piotr family, who owned lands in Orsha District in the 14th century (he was born in 1320). The name of the family came from his son, Styatska. The author studies all connections to the present day, omitting not a single branch. The huge volume contains unique archive documents, photos and recollections by hundreds of people. Certainly, the family tree has many branches.
Of course, his work is ongoing — in proportion with that great family tree — exploring 40 noble families. Undoubtedly, this will ease the work of those following in his footsteps. Moreover, he has sought out as much information as possible about each of those to whom he is related.
“This information is priceless,” asserts doctor of philological sciences Ales Belsky. “It will be extremely precious to our descendants. If someone wishes, they can learn the history of their family from this book — as if from a textbook. They can explore the identity of their relatives, where they lived, their occupations and achievements, as well as the challenges they faced. In the words of Maxim Bogdanovich, they can learn ‘about their great grandfathers, about their joys and sorrows and adventures, alongside to whom they prayed and for what they searched’. The author doesn’t merely outline his family tree through the centuries but creates a chronicle of local history, biographies and literature, from collected archive documents, materials and recollections.”
Those with Belarusian family roots reside all over the globe and ‘noble’ surnames live on and are written about, including the Stetskevichs and Karafa-Korbuts (books released in 2011 in Russian by the Belarusian Exarchate Publishing House and by Rodnoe Slovo Publishing House in Belarusian). Other volumes detailing the families of Rudinskie, Tychiny, Zhdanovichi-Gurinovichi, Sytko, Lipskie, Zabely, Tatury, Nekrashevichi, Glinskie-Likhodievskie, Reuty, Koribut-Dashkevichi, Kernazhitskie, Mostvilovichi, Getolty and Tyshkevichi (from the Kolenkovichi family)
are being developed.
“In reading about particular people and their deeds, we perceive our history differently,” noted Mr. Stetskevich-Cheboganov, at the presentation of his book this year, on the eve of the 19th Internatonal Book Fair in Minsk. Or ancestors made history, as we see from their deeds and fates. I believe that learning about our roots honours our ancestors in a patriotic fashion, inspiring love for home, family and Fatherland!”
By Ivan Zhdanovich