First Armenian Genealogy Conference Held in Watertown

Nancy Guzelian sharing an old photograph (Photo: Kenneth Martin)
Nancy Guzelian sharing an old photograph (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

Nancy Guzelian sharing an old photograph (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

WATERTOWN (Armenian Weekly)The first Armenian Genealogy Conference was held at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center (ACEC), in Watertown, Mass., on the weekend of April 9-10. More than 300 people attended the two-day conference. Some came from as far as Vancouver, Canada, while two participants flew in from Great Britain.

The program began Saturday with a welcome by the three conference organizers, Tracy Rivest Keeney, Mark Arslan, and George Aghjayan.

Keeney, creator of the Armenian Genealogy Facebook page, led the first presentation, covering the sources most commonly available to genealogists in the United States. She used real cases in highlighting the valuable information that can be gleaned from the sources. Her talk supplied an important foundation, especially for those just beginning their family tree research.

The next presenter, Arslan, provided background on his family research and its evolution to become the Armenian Immigration Project. Initially devoted to immigrants from Keghi, the website has become an extensive database for all immigrants to the United States. Arslan gave examples of the ways to search the databases as well as to link individuals to various records. He also explained how others can help in transcribing records.

Steve Kurkjian and Janet Andreopoulos speaking on how DNA can play a role in Armenian family research (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

Steve Kurkjian and Janet Andreopoulos speaking on how DNA can play a role in Armenian family research (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

Vahe Tachjian, director of Houshamadyan, spoke of the project’s aim to “reconstruct Ottoman Armenian town and village life.” He gave examples of memory items that supply important context, particularly for genealogists. He also explained how people can help expand the project.

Then, both Houshamadyan and Project Save—the Armenian photograph archives and one of the sponsoring organizations of the conference—welcomed attendees to their booths, where participants shared their photographs, family trees, and other memory items, and learned about these two important Armenian institutions.

Following lunch, Luc Baronian, professor of linguistics at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, spoke of the importance of the books, periodicals, and other information contained in the records of Armenian compatriotic unions. Using the examples of Gurin, Ourfa, Albustan, and Gesaria, Baronian detailed early census records, hand-drawn maps, post-genocide lists of villagers around the world, and survivor memoirs to highlight the richness of material available to genealogists.

Participants with roots in Capadocia (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

Participants with roots in Capadocia (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

The final speakers for the day were Janet Achoukian Andreopoulos and Stephen Kurkjian. Andreopoulos supplied a brief explanation of the different DNA tests available and the companies that offer them. Kurkjian and Andreopoulos then told the story of how a DNA test helped one woman identify her Armenian father. Andreopoulos walked the audience step-by-step through the process and methods she used to unearth the previously unknown father.

The final two hours on Saturday were devoted to networking and actual research. More than 12 volunteers from nearby Family History Centers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped attendees with their own family research. In addition, based on the village origins of conference participants, photographs of the attendees were taken with others from the same region—the villages fell into 12 regions, and participants were divided into groups accordingly. DNA kits from Family Tree DNA were also made available at a discount.

Two of the organizers as well as speakers – Mark Arslan and Tracy Keeney (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

Two of the organizers as well as speakers – Mark Arslan and Tracy Keeney (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

The day-long program was video-taped by Roger Hagopian, well-known local filmmaker (“Destination Watertown: The Armenians of Hood Rubber” and “Memories of Marash”). The videos (14 parts) are available through the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) YouTube channel:

On Sunday, cosponsors Project Save, the NAASR, and the Armenian Museum of America (AMA) opened their doors to conference participants. Attendees learned more about the missions of the organizations, their extensive collections and resources, and the way they can be used by genealogists. Hamazkayin Boston and the Tekeyan Cultural Association also sponsored the conference. Given the tremendous success of the program, future conferences are currently being planned for other locations.

Participants with roots in Cilicia (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

Participants with roots in Cilicia (Photo: Kenneth Martin)

A slide-show of photographs taken by Kenneth Martin is also available online. (http://westernarmenia.weebly.com/armenian-genealogy-conference-2016.html).

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