July 9, 2013

Genealogy: It's Not Only About Dead People

April 1999
I was working as field staff hiking delinquent youth around the desert in southern Utah. My sister, Kristal, was just graduating BYU, where she'd taken many genealogy classes and got a taste for solving family history mysteries.The only problem was that there seemed to be several dead ends. As luck would have it, the only way to pick up leads is to make a trip. Ha ha. It didn't take much to convince me to go with my sister. This trip seemed to have a more noble purpose than simply traveling to Europe for 3 weeks. Leaving Utah, we had the name of my grandfather's British cousin and the addresses of a few parishes to check out. 

May 1999
Kristal and I fly to London, see a few sights, rent a car and drive around England sight-seeing researching parish records. It was interesting to meet people who lived and breathed genealogy in these family history centers. We would get to a town where an ancestor was born or married or died and we would try to get a hold of the official records wherein we could also find other useful bits of information, such as parent names or occupations.

It wasn't all churches and libraries. We also used the phone book to look up our surname in an old family town. We found a match and knocked on the door. That was wild. We struck out when the girl who answered the door had no idea where any of her family was from. Oh well. Better luck next time.

Next Time:
We had the name and address of my grandfather's cousin. Communication had been spotty over the last several years, but then again, my grandfather had died and my grandmother had Alzheimer's and dementia...so losing contact made sense. Kristal and I arrived and knocked on the door. No luck. No one was home.

As we were turning away from the door, a car pulled up into the driveway and a couple got out. We asked if Derek still lived there. Nope. He died 3 years ago. Doh!

But this man, Richard, was his son and he lived there. Fantastic! We introduced ourselves and they invited us in for a visit and asked us to stay for dinner. It's humorous to mention that they thought we were Jehovah Witnesses knocking on their door...nope...but we're Mormon. Ha ha. Both of us had been missionaries knocking on doors so we totally understood why they thought that...though we were wearing jeans instead of skirts. 

Richard called up one of his daughters who was into family history and living in a nearby town going to University to tell him two American girls had just turned up at the door. Kate came home and we spent into the wee hours of the morning in the attic pouring over an old trunk that contains all of their family history. It was a gold mine for filling in holes in Kristal's research. They had living memories about some of the people who we had lost track of. We found out about visits to the seaside where several family members had moved and were buried...ahhh, little questions being answered. And so many more being asked. Who were the people in the photos? What were their lives like?

We ended up staying one night with Richard, the next night at his brothers Nick's house and a third night with Kate and Dave (Nick's son) and their roommates at University. These days spent with our cousins were the best part of the trip. In hostels and tourist areas, we got to interact with a ton of other foreigners and tourists. But here, we learned more about our British heritage from the inside out. 

I wrote to Nick to tell him that I was going with Tymon on a business trip to London and asking if we could get together while I was in town. Over the years, we'd only sent Christmas cards back and forth and had no means of instant contact (email, phone, Facebook, etc). Nick emailed  back and we set up a meeting spot for one day when Tymon had meetings. I took a train about an hour out of London and Kate and Nick picked me up.We had a wonderful visit and met Richard and his wife for lunch. Dave also took a break from work and came - he and Kate ended up marrying each other several years ago and they now have a toddler daughter, Emilia. Reconnecting after so many years felt good.
Cousins Kate and Dave and little Emilia
On the way home from Serbia, as long as we were already in the neighborhood (or at least only a few countries away), we stopped in England. This time for a proper visit with Kate and Dave. It has seriously been delightful being here. They live in a little town in the Cotswold region full of old style stone houses and cottages. We've loved staying with them. It's fun and Dave's cooking is the best. Each night we eat some English specialty. I think my favorite is the cracklin. Or crispy potatoes. Or BBQ, stew, slow baked spaghetti sauce. Or bangers and mash. Actually, Dave's potato salad recipe is the best I've ever tasted, even if it was Kate who made it. We have crumpets for breakfast and got pork pies and sausage roll pastries one day for lunch. Yes, we've eaten very well here.
Kate and I with our toddlers in Cardiff, Wales.
But it's not all food. It's the fun and laughs each day that really bond us...playing in the park and nighttime walks (it gets dark about 10:45 pm). We also share some uncanny connections. Like Kate and I, both dark, married gingers and have blonde children.We hold many interests in common and have talks late into the night.

Our adventures in the Cotswolds have included a wonderful 4th of July BBQ - but much to our kids dismay there were no fireworks...hence this is not the best vacation ever. It would have been, but they missed fireworks, so it's definitely not. Ha ha. Kids are funny.

Bowood Animals
Bowood Estate
It's too bad we went to the Bowood Estate on our first day here...all the kids wanted to do was go back to that park the rest of our stay. To their credit, it was amazing. I wanted to play there.
Bowood Playground
And you better believe I did this slide of death...is there anything more fun than an almost free fall slide? I think no. There was a sign that said "no adults" but I don't think it applied to me. Ha ha. I got down about a minute before the park guy came around. Phew!
Bowood Slide of Death
Malmesbury Park
Cotswold Water Park
We've enjoyed being with our cousins and had loads of fun. Kate's father sold their family home about 6 months after Kristal and I had knocked on the door. Had we not gone when we did, it's likely we would never have known how amazing our British cousins are.

July 8, 2013

Balkan Adventure: Serbian Orthodox Wedding

It’s wedding day! We were so honored to be a part of the Paunović family celebration this past month. Before the wedding, Luka came to the Paunović home to buy his bride from the youngest family member...which was Jovana. Also included in the exchange was Anja, the youngest cousin. Serbs often call their cousins brothers and sisters, which confused me a few times when meeting so much family, but I think I have it all sorted out now. 
Maja and Luka - not my photo, but it'd be cool if it was.
The apartment door is decorated with roses and flowers, maybe to show the groom which is the right home, or maybe to warn the neighbors that a lot of music and celebration are about to take place. The door decorations from all weddings across the country are left on the parents door until the following March. At that point there is a celebration for all the couples married in the previous year and the flowers are removed.

(wedding door photo)

Luka bid up to a pre-arranged amount (~100€) and Jovana and Anja accepted the price. I'm not sure which one got to keep the money. 

Only close family members from both sides and the best man and maids of honor are invited to see the exchange since it's held in the family's small apartment home. It was packed. The accordions played and appetizers were served. Then the pre-wedding party loaded into cars decorated with ribbons and Serbian flags and drove in tandem to the church. The wedding party honks and honks and honks. Other cars on the roadway honk. Other cars try not to get in the middle of the procession...which was tricky when we got onto the freeway, but we were successful.

The groom's family lined up on one side of the church and the bride's on the other. The ceremony started at the head of the room where they lit candles and then moved to the center. It lasted maybe 15 or 20 minutes and the priest did several rituals. I'd like to say that I know what they all mean, but alas, my Serbian language skills are pretty poor...in fact, I don't even know if the priest was speaking Serbian. He tied the couple's hands together (candles were given to the best man and maid of honor), then put crowns on their heads and they walked around in a circle a few times while he swung some incense, perhaps frankincense in front of them. There were people singing from the balcony as a part of the ceremony, but we couldn't see them.It was lovely. How they fill the stone church with such beautiful sounds when sounds seem to echo every which way is beyond me, but it was fantastic.

At the end we took photos of the wedding party and family. Before leaving the church the Orthodox people turn around to face the church, kiss the doors and then come out. Some random guys were playing music outside the church to earn a few tips. They asked me for money, but I didn't know what they wanted. I didn't realize they weren't part of the wedding.

An interesting tidbit about the wedding ring: the best man buys for it. So I guess if you want a pretty ring then you need to be nice to your fiance's best friend. Ha ha. There are also some important responsibilities for the maid of honor. Dearest Maja and Jovana, when you read this, will you comment on what those are? Thanks in advance!

The reception was in a nearby reception venue. A traditional band started the party off by playing traditional music for a couple of hours then another band with singers finished the remaining several hours. They didn't take a break the entire evening. It was incredible.

Jocelyn loved the dancing best and hung out with Luka's nephew most of the evening. It was funny to watch him speak to her in Serbian and her respond in English and then they'd run off laughing. When I asked her later how that worked, she shrugged her shoulders and ran off when he came calling again.

The dinner menu was served in several courses, maybe one an hour. So party-goers could eat, dance, drink, smoke and then be hungry again before the next course came. It's a brilliant move to keep the party hopping all night. It was amazing to me that everyone seemed to enjoy the music and dancing no matter how old they were. Especially when dancing the kolo. It's a traditional dance that had been going a few minutes by the time I joined in. I thought it would end shortly after I joined. But it kept going. And going. And going. My legs were sore after doing the same few steps for 20+ minutes.

The civil wedding ceremony also took place at the reception. In Serbia (as well as Slovenia and probably a few other countries), the religious ceremony isn't enough to get married. So the officiant comes to the reception to do it. Then the bride and groom greet their guests individually and guests give gifts, usually a card with money.

By the end of the evening, the girls were so tired. Kira fell asleep on her chair despite the loud music. And when I say loud, I mean really loud. Jocelyn, I found out later, had been spending her time outside with the other kids so their ears wouldn't ring. She fell asleep on my lap in a back room that blocked the sound somewhat.

Soon after the wedding cake was served, but not before I'd eaten a piece, Jovana and her mother helped me carry both girls to our car. I heard the dancing ended around midnight, though I took my zonked out girls home around 10pm. Experiencing a Serbian wedding from the perspective of the celebrating family was an incredible experience that I'm so grateful to have been a part of.

July 5, 2013

Balkan Adventure: Lost Luggage

My daughters and I have been privileged guests of the Paunović family this past month. We flew to Belgrade a couple weeks in advance of the rest of our family for Jovana's sister, Maja’s (My-uh) wedding. From the very beginning, this has been a different experience traveling compared to any other trip I’ve been on. For years, I thought Jovana was born into the wrong family. Not that there’s anything wrong with her family. 

There isn’t. 

It’s just that our bond together here seems to have always existed. Like our spirits were close before we were born and when we came to earth we just had to find a way to meet again. In much the same way I love my family, I love Jovana. While I always knew Jovana had another family who loves her dearly, it didn’t seem real to me until I came to Belgrade.

I arrived exhausted. We had traveled for about 15 hours; I stayed up the night before packing with only a couple hours of sleep, and got no more than a 2 hour rest on the flight due to the inconsistent sleeping patterns of an active toddler. I just wanted to go to sleep. But to make our story more interesting, when we arrived, the only pieces of our luggage on the conveyor belt were the girls’ car seats. So I figured out which line to stand in and waited for my turn to describe my luggage and figure out when it would arrive. Meanwhile, the crowd from our flight had slimmed down to nothing and there was Jovana, waiting on the other side of the customs door wondering what had happened to me.

Remember that one time I blogged about me being the lucky one? Mostly because I seem to win prizes more than my fair share of the time…often enough that I’m never really surprised when it happens to me. Well, the same goes for lost luggage. If someone’s luggage is going to be lost, I’m not surprised if it’s mine. It’s been like this for years…or decades. Missionary luggage left on the tarmac in the rain in New York - my blue skirt bleeding all over my white shirts. Car seats lost when going to a wedding in San Diego. Car seats and luggage lost when flying from Calgary to Vancouver, BC. Those had to be FedEx’d to Seattle a couple days later. This isn’t all. Just some that I remember right now. 

If I can help it, I don’t check baggage. I know the airline will give you loaner car seats until they find yours but all the same, I usually pack light, wear the same pair of jeans 3 days in a row and plan to do laundry at least once for a longer trip. But this trip is different. I started out traveling alone with two young children. We are gone for weeks not days. I had a stroller, car seats, and 3 pieces of luggage. It’s a lot to juggle so this time, I checked everything I could.

The lost luggage clerk in Belgrade thought my luggage would come in the next day or two but it might be up to a week later. Uh oh, I said. I have a wedding on Saturday (I arrived Thursday afternoon). “Your wedding?” he asked with fear in his eyes. No. Relief flooded his face. But my dress is in that bag and I need to know if I should go shopping. He told me I should call tomorrow and by that time, they should have at least found out where it was.

All my apprehension about traveling alone with the girls and with juggling luggage was for naught. I walked through the doors to meet Jovana only pushing Kira in a stroller while one of the luggage guys pushed the cart with a zonked out Jocelyn and car seats on it. So simple.

Waiting with Jovana were her uncle and cousin. I was hugged and squeezed and kissed. In Serbia, they kiss three times. Always. When we got to Jovana’s home, her mother and father greeted me like they knew me. They were just meeting me for the first time. And for the girls, this was really uncanny. I’m not sure Jocelyn realized that Jovana had a family. They shied away from the attention. It felt good to be welcomed with open arms. A month later, they are just as welcoming and hospitable as in the beginning. The Paunović family is like an extension of ours. Family we just hadn’t met yet.

The next day, Friday, our luggage arrived on the same flight it should have been on the day before. They would deliver it on Saturday (day of wedding) or we could pick it up later that afternoon. Not a tough choice. We’ll pick it up now. Jovana had a function to attend, so Sneki (her mom) had one of her friends from work go to the airport with us. This friend named Maria reminded me in age, appearance, temperament and intelligence of Tymon’s brother’s ex-girlfriend…named Marie. Whoa. Maria speaks Serbian and English, so I’m pretty sure she and Marie aren’t the same person. It makes me wonder if we all have doppelgangers around…kind of like Olivia and Faux-livia in Fringe.

Once we arrived at the airport, we had to wait about an hour once to get the luggage. Apparently, a full flight arrived with only 5 pieces of luggage on it. That isn’t 5 lost pieces. That’s 5 pieces in total got loaded onto the plane. There were 200 people in the lost luggage line. So we waited. And waited (Jocelyn making lots of friends as she ran around) until they could help us. It was such a relief to get our bags and not have to fit in an emergency shopping expedition.

We are coming to the close of our trip. I'm now sitting in the basement of my British cousins who live in the Cotswolds of England and typing stories from the previous weeks that have been neglected. 

As we arrived in London, the boys were looking out the window as the bags were being unloaded and they got excited when they saw our car seats as they were coming out of the plane. We got off the plane before we saw our luggage, but no worries; all of it was on the conveyor belt at baggage claim. Except the car seats weren't. And we had no stroller, as well.

It took about half an hour to find out where our items went to but they were all returned...only our trusty old blue stroller was a bit lacking. As in it was missing a front wheel.

The poor thing has been through 6 kids and was in rough condition. I'd already been thinking about leaving it in England when it was time to come home. So when the lost baggage guy suggested that he give me a stroller that they had in the back room, I readily agreed. We got a lovely stroller...one that has a foot rest strap, something old blue lost a kid or two back. 

This red one works for our trip, but it's also one that we will also be leaving here. The front wheels don't rotate, which proves tricky for steering. Alas, I now know what Kira will be getting for her birthday next week. Ha ha.
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