Preparing for my Ukrainian roots

Damn, my butt hurts. I’ve been sitting in Pasticceria Vittoria here in Alba Adriatica, Italy for two and a half hours without moving. Staring at this computer. Manipulating names. Understanding data. Entering family members into my family tree. Trying to figure out who is who.

I leave for Lviv, Ukraine this Thursday, April 9. I can’t wait. The weather in Alba Adriatica vacillates between sun/warmth and rain/cold. But when it is sunny, it’s glorious and reminds me of how much I adore Italy.

Yet, I can’t wait to leave! I can’t wait to get to Ukraine. The whole image of Ukraine in my mind is somewhat romanticized. Former Soviet satellite. Impoverished yet brimming with uber-wealthy oligarchs. Friendly, fiercely-proud people embracing freedom from tyranny. Former Russian breadbasket. Site of numerous wars and purges. Chernobyl. My eyes are twinkling.

The weather forecast bends with the wind so I really don’t know what to expect. Probably the same thing I experienced in Krakow only with more sun and warmth as we are now in April and Lviv is a bit farther south.

On April 12 I will fly to Odessa, in the extreme southern part of the country to meet with my brother’s girlfriend, Marina. I will be staying with her parents who, apparently are anxious to meet me. I will also be taking some tokens of my esteem–Italian sausages, wines and cheeses. Marina also wants to show me around her hometown, something I anticipate.

In looking at the map, I see that Odessa is not terribly far from Crimea which was annexed last year by Russia in a grandstanding, chest-puffing attempt by Vladimir Putin to self-consciously prove his machismo. I’m not worried. There’s a ceasefire and I don’t think Putin is willing to suddenly send his nationalists to attack a city of 800,000 people.

On April 15 my brother will be flying to Lviv to hook up with me and Marina and see the sights. We plan on taking one day to drive to the area where our grandparents were born and raised along with our great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents and great-great-great-grandparents (that’s as far back as I’ve gone so far!).

I am really looking forward to this. It will mean a lot to have my brother there with me to visit the towns (and the houses!) where our ancestors lived. To see the churches where they were baptized, visit the cemeteries and get a feel for the land and how far we, as their progeny have come.

I have to admit that the old doubt still creeps in sometimes. Even if I get all the information I want and need–and have a grand time doing it–what’s it all for? A book that 500 people will read? An encyclopedic genealogical study for my nephew? Will it have been worth it? Between this book and Lemonade, I will have spent nearly two and a half years of my life working on something that produced few discernible dividends. Perhaps a sense of self-satisfaction. Perhaps a sense of knowing more of my make-up and who I am. That’s it.

Will that be enough when I return to Oregon? I have no idea how long it will take me to finish this book. Truthfully, I won’t be in a huge hurry although I do hear from people asking about my next offering. That makes me feel a bit of pressure. However, I won’t rush it.

I am going to do everything in my power to try to create some sort of publicity, if possible. I have submitted to the Lviv Post an article they requested about me and my genealogical journey. The Lviv Post is an English language newspaper. Apparently, there is one in Kiev, too. I will also check out any English language radio or TV stations I can find.

I’m glad I took this week to relax and gather my bearings. Three weeks of running around Krakow and Warsaw doing research makes one’s brain go soft. This week has allowed me to coordinate my information while it’s fresh in my mind.

And what a pile of information it is. Dozens of Bakuns and Dlugoszs. I had been frustrated over finding very little information about my grandfather. Then I reached Warsaw and hit the mother load. Suddenly I had names going back to my great-great-great grandfather. That’s one more “great” than from my grandmother’s side! Plus, I have a bunch of names I can’t coordinate yet since I was unable to access the marriage files in Warsaw. I figure I will be able to do so in Ukraine.

At some point, though, it gets to be a bit of overkill. Do I really give a hoot about my great-grandfather’s nephews or cousins? No. Unless someone led a resistance against the Nazis or Stalinists, I don’t care. I can’t keep searching into oblivion every name that comes down the pike.

This whole time has been a fascinating learning experience. I’ve learned how records were kept in Austria-Hungary-cum-Poland-cum-Ukraine-cum-Galicia in the 1800’s. Even viewing the elaborate scripts is an experience.

I’ve had to interpret Polish and Latin in researching these documents. My host, Aleksander, helped. And now, back in Italy, I’ve learned from what he taught me so I can decipher yet more.

I’m learning which documents are important and which aren’t and how to determine which people are my great- or great-great-grandparents. I’m learning about what their lives must have been like with famine, punishing poverty, high infant mortality rates and low life expectancy. And I’m getting a firsthand glimpse into the indomitable human spirit for survival–something greater than any textbook or documentary can ever deliver.

I think I’m done for the time being in working on these names and the family tree. I’m starting to see double. I’m going to wait until I get to Ukraine before I continue. I still have to hit the pharmacy for my prescription, the optometrist to tweak my glasses, the health club to get beautifully buff, the travel agency to get my bus ticket for the Rome airport and the grocery store for my Italian treats. There’s laundry, phone calls to America and to my bank informing them of my upcoming visit to Ukraine. And I still have to get caught up on my Italian lessons. Yeah, I guess I’m done for now.

A deep breath before I leave for a country on edge holding, for me, a trove of information.

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