Photo courtesy Andrew Neel, Unsplash
In my previous blog post, I wrote about the steps I took to discover my grandfather, Wasyl Nykoluk’s, immigration story (how-i-discovered-my-ukrainian-grandfathers-immigration-story.html). In this post, I’m writing about the unfolding of my grandmother, Anne Nykoluk’s, immigration story.
My grandmother’s WW1 experience was difficult, she and her two infant children were trapped in the old country for nine long years before she could join my grandfather in Canada. Family stories indicate that Anne and her two young children were in nine different war camps. It’s hard to imagine how desperate some of those refugee situations must have been.
The Canadian government closed its borders to Ukrainian immigrants shortly after the beginning of WW1 because Galicians were Austro-Hungarians at the time, that is, enemies of Canada, Britain, and Russia. Politics were the reason my grandparents were separated for nine years, not lack of funds raised by my grandfather to bring them over.
I experienced problems locating my grandmother’s 1923 passenger record: a genealogist friend finally located it for me on Ancestry.com. Another piece of documentation on Ancestry listed "my person of interest" arriving in Canada with a nine-year-old girl named Mary, thus, confirming that the immigration record was indeed my grandmother’s. Bingo!
My grandmother and aunt arrived in Montreal aboard the Cunard Steam Ship the Andania on May 15th, 1923. The trip across the Atlantic usually took about eight days – in good weather! They travelled as third-class passengers in very basic conditions, and were expected to bring their own food for the journey. The “Declaration of Passenger to Canada” document indicated that Anne was 31 years old, a Greek Catholic, and a farm labourer. Anne listed her mother, Marja Bartycuik, as her closest living next-of-kin in the old country. (My grandmother’s maiden name was Kowalchuck, but our great grandmother’s maiden name was Bartycuik). Marja was listed as living in a small village called Velurica (spp ? the writing on the document is unclear) near Melnytsya Podilska.
Sometimes family stories don’t agree with historical documentation, even though you’ve taken careful steps to confirm that the documents, do in fact, belong to your ancestor.
My grandmother’s passenger record showed her signature as an “o”, indicating that she could not read or write, whereas my grandfather’s passenger list indicated he could read and write. The document specifically stated that she did not read. Our family story was that my grandmother was the educated one, and that my grandfather was a worker on their farm. My belief is that documentation proved the opposite.
Before WW1, it was common for Ukrainian families not to send their daughters to school, in fact, only 15% of Galicians had any type of education at the turn of the century (Martynowych, 1991). Most Galicians were too poor to afford school. If they could afford it, they sent their sons. The fact that my grandfather could read and write meant that he was one of the few Galicians able to do so.
The more I learned about my grandparent’s protracted and difficult immigration to Canada, the more curious I became about their most personal thoughts and emotions.
What were their hopes and dreams?
How did my grandmother feel about her husband leaving her behind with two small children?
How did she feel about being without my grandfather during the years she spent in war camps?
Researching ancestry can be like undertaking a small home renovation – if not careful, you risk ending up with a whole new house! My curiosity, and my desire to fill the information gaps, eventually led me to write a historical fiction novel called Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, available now. Check my website Bookstore page for more details.
Read early reviews at www.christinenykoluk.com
Download a free digital copy of my book’s first chapter on my Free Chapter page!
Follow my author journey on Facebook: christinenykolukauthor
Orest Martynowych. 1991. Ukrainians in Canada – The Formative Period: 1891-1924. University of Alberta; Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.