Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Ties to Lithuania

 I always thought our Lithuanian name, Uknavage, was unique, or if not truly unique then surely rare for I've never found anyone other than a family member with that name. Believing that it was unique, I was not prepared for the response I got at the Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius in 2001 when I asked for help in finding family records.."Oh, that name is very common here, very common," and then she pronounced it just like we do. They spell it differently in Lithuania, Juknevicius with a little mark over the "c", but the pronunciation was right on making me believe she knew what she was talking about. The archivist went on to explain that before any search could be made in Lithuania I should go home and gather together all records of the family in this country, especially ships' manifests, naturalization papers, and birth certificates, anything that might link them to Lithuania and only then submit them to the Archives for help. So that's what I've been doing for over a decade and I've still not found one record that gives the name of the town or region where the Uknavage family lived in Lithuania before emigrating in 1889.
 Josas Juchnewicz/Juknevicius/Uknavage and his wife Petronella Jasaitis married in Lithuania about 1884 and brought their three small children with them to New York having sailed from Bremen, Germany aboard The Lahn. There were two other adults who travelled with them, a 25-yr. old female Franzka Tokewicz (perhaps a misspelling of Juknewicz) and 21-yr. old male Vinc Jeschaitis (most likely a misspelling of Jasaitis), probably relatives. Online research has shown me that there were Jasaitis relatives here when my family arrived in 1889 and the moves my gr-grandparents made after their arrival in New York down to the coal fields of Pittston, Pennsylvania, then westward to another coal town Westville, Illinois  probably followed the path and reunited them with the Jasaitis relatives, not Juknewicz relatives. Again I learned that Jasaitis is a very common name in Lithuania so here I am looking for the Lithuanian equivalent of Smith and Jones families which is ironic for my husband's Oklahoma grandparents were a Smith and a Jones. As those of you who do genealogy research know common names are more difficult to pin down than unusual names.
 Oh, I've learned much about the Jasaitis family, how most of them changed their name to Sites, where they scattered to, who they married, where they went to church, and where they are buried, but I still have not found the name of the town or region in Lithuania where they lived. I'm about to decide that it doesn't matter to me, that one Smith and Jones family, or in this case Juknewicz and Jasaitis family, is enough like another that I can be satisfied with a possible scenario, a historical novel version of my family's past.
 I discussed this with my brother last week, told him of my frustration, how I've learned so much about those difficult times in Lithuania that forced thousands to flee their homeland, what their exodus must have entailed, why they settled where they did, how they fought with the Polish over the Catholic churches in their communities, determined to hear the liturgy in their own tongue, how they became tailors, coal miners, bartenders, and undertakers. He encouraged me to write it down, mix the known with the supposed, record the story of our Lithuanian relatives as it might have been, knowing I might get it wrong. I'm going to give it a whirl.

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