Thirty Years Ago

by Annie Barnes

Thirty years ago, Annie Barnes wrote down the names of her mother’s family, the Kazakoffs, on a single sheet of paper.  She would later come to regret that she hadn’t asked more questions, much earlier, and filled many pages with information.  As is so often the case, she didn’t realize how important her family oral tradition would be until everyone was gone and it was too late.  For many years, her family history consisted of a box-full of letters, photographs and scraps of paper with notes.  After her research efforts had reached an impasse, she unexpectedly encountered an explosion of detailed genealogical information and resources on the World Wide Web that would have been difficult or impossible to access before. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, Annie recounts her trails and hard-won triumphs while researching her Kazakoff ancestry.

Thirty years ago my mother and I stayed in a hotel. It was the Caravel. I remember because I used a page of their letterhead to record what I asked my mother, Tena, to tell me about her father’s family, the Kazakoffs. Possibly I was thinking of a family history; more likely it was reason to find a common ground of conversation with my mother who was already showing some signs of dementia. I wrote the names of my grandfather’s two brothers and two sisters. The single sheet of paper survived throughout our multiple moves and most recently a flood. I regret I didn’t ask more about our family but I didn’t know what questions to ask. If I could go back in time, I would have filled pages with the information that now eludes me. I would have started writing the family history when I was forty years old. No. Even then it would have been too late. At twenty years, when my grandmother was still alive, all her children were still alive, that’s when I should have started the family history. As Doukhobor historian Eli Popoff wrote in his 1992 letter to me: All those resource persons, our illiterate grandmas and grandpas, who held such vast amounts of oral knowledge, both historical and spiritual and who we were brainwashed to be ashamed of, are now gone.

But to everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven. Thirty years ago I didn’t have a computer. There was no world wide web, and Jonathan J. Kalmakoff was still a child, not dreaming about starting a Doukhobor website. Without a computer, without a website, and without Jon’s zeal for research, the Kazakoff history may have remained one line on a page from the Caravel Hotel in Kelowna, British Columbia in 1976.

Another ten years passed before I taped a conversation with my mother when she visited us in Calgary. She was confused about dates and people but remembered some tender stories about her father, Nicholas S. Kazakoff. My mother died three years after I made that recording and listening to her voice today, it’s like she’s with me in this room and I treasure that small tape.

Letterhead from the Caravel Motor Inn in Kelowna, British Columbia where, thirty years ago, Annie Barnes wrote down the information her mother told her about the Kazakoff ancestral family.

Tracing family history is an arduous task. My husband’s maternal family history was more easily traced by his cousin, searching through family bibles, birth and death records as far back as the early 1600’s. His was not a Doukhobor family. All the data could be verified by those records.

Few Doukhobors who came to Canada in 1899 registered births, marriages or deaths. History was passed down around the kitchen table by adults. We children soon nodded off from boredom. To find an actual verified record of a birth, or death is a rare and gratifying experience for the fledgling genealogist.

So, why did I start my search? What was most important for me was to write a history my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren would read with pride. For many years, my generation hid our heritage for no other reason than to try and ‘fit in’ with our Canadian peers because ‘Doukhobor’ was a negative label. Recently my son told me he was ashamed to say the word, “baba”; (that’s what our children called my mother) because all his friends’ grandmothers were called nana. Many of my generation were shamed and we passed our shame on to our children, a double, unforgivable shame. I needed to find historical pride in our ancestors.

In 1992, while researching my paternal family history for the piece, “Doukhobor Women in the Twentieth Century” in Koozma Tarasof’s “Spirit Wrestler’s Voices” (Ottawa: Legas, 1998) I received a photocopy of a Doukhobor ship’s passenger list from Koozma J. Tarasoff of Ottawa. I found the names of my paternal grandmother’s family, the Hlookoffs, on the manifest of the fourth ship, the S.S. Huron. The family of my maternal grandfather was not listed on any ship. I wanted to find those names. I wrote to my uncle, Mike N. Kazakoff in Castlegar, B. C. and my older cousin, Diane (Lacktin) Law of 100 Mile House, B. C. and asked them to write everything they could remember about the Kazakoff family. Their letters, nearly ruined by the 2005 flood, are still readable and priceless to this day.

My Doukhobor roots, after lying dormant for many years were starting to grow stronger. In 1994, with encouragement from Koozma Tarasoff, I wrote a play called “Baba, I’m Home” that was performed during the Learned Societes Meeting and the Doukhobor Happening at the University of Calgary on June 10, 1994. That evening, I was very proud of all our Doukhobors.

In 1995 my husband and I hosted a Kazakoff family reunion in honor of my great-grandparents who burned their weapons in 1895 and came to Canada in 1899. That day, my uncle, now the late Mike N. Kazakoff took me aside and in his quiet, yet persuasive voice, said, “Write our history.”

In 1996, we retired from Calgary to our cabin and acreage near Sundre, Alberta. It was difficult to attend prayer meetings in Calgary but I longed to connect with my Doukhobor sisterhood. In June, 1998 Doukhobor artist, Jan Kabatoff and I coordinated the first Doukhobor Women’s Retreat at the Kiwanis Centre near Bragg Creek. Fifty women, most of them from my generation, shared stories of struggling with our culture. We sang and we cried together.

Sadly, three years after my uncle’s plea, my Kazakoff family history was only a collection of letters, a few pictures and scraps of paper with notes in a manila envelope at the bottom of a filing cabinet drawer. I had an old computer with no internet capability and few resources as a pensioner to buy a new computer system.

In 2001 a friend asked me to look after her house and dog in Calgary for the entire month of March. The bonus would be the use of her computer with my own email address; how could I refuse? I introduced myself through email to Jonathan Kalmakoff on the Doukhobor website. I found and bought the first of those wonderful blue (and later red) coil bound books that became my addiction, “Doukhobor Ship Passenger Lists, 1898-1928” by Steve Lapshinoff & Jonathan Kalmakoff. My Kazakoff ancestors were not listed.

The second blue coil bound book I bought was “List of Doukhobors Living in Saskatchewan in 1905” by Steve Lapshinoff. On page sixty-seven was my “Aha” moment; the names of my great-grandfather, Savely Kazakoff and my grandfather, Nicholas S. Kazakoff and their families. Now, I had some factual information, in addition to oral family history.

I might add the compulsion for facts when researching Doukhobor genealogy can end in unproductive frustration. Every piece of information will differ from another. In records birth years can be as far apart as five years. Births were remembered when gardens were planted, weeded or harvested. Deaths if the ground was soft or frozen. Cemetery records were not yet available. So I caution those of you who may be starting out on this quest. Don’t be entrapped, as I was, by dates and the need for positive proof. Go with your heart feeling and if the information doesn’t check out in one or two areas and does in another, then go for it and don’t obsess. When your grandchildren read the history, dates are not going to be important. They will want to have an emotional connection with their ancestor, not a statistical one.

In spring of 2001, I was on the internet, thanks to a computer from my friend. There were a few glitches on the internet information highway, a few more recycled computers from well meaning friends, a few more viruses. Computers evolved from Windows 3.1 to Windows XP and will continue to forever plague us with updates.

In 2002 I added a red coil bound book to my collection: “1918 Census of Independent Doukhobors” by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. I found more information on my Kazakoff family and started writing the history as I knew it then. But it wasn’t until 2004, with the addition of two other red coil bound books that everything started to really come together: “Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada; 1930 Membership List” by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff and then, the most important one: “1853 Register of Doukhobors in the Caucasus” by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. In this register we found our first documented ancestor born about 1770.

Research revealed our great-grandfather, Savely Kazakoff descended from a line of free men, Cossacks or Kazaks; whether they were Zaporozhian or Don Kuban, we don’t know. We do know this branch of Kazakoffs was known as Chulkov (stocking). Savely was a Kazak for Doukhobor leader, Pyotr Kalmakov and later for his widow, the benevolent Lukeria. We also know Savely was on sentry duty at the Verigin home in the Province of Slavianka on June 29th, 1859 when Peter the Lordly was born. When Grand Forks Doukhobor historian, Eli Popoff did a series of interviews years ago, he remembers an elderly lady, a Mrs. Eli Savitskoff who said she was Savely Kazakoff’s grand daughter. She told Eli she remembers, and my mother also remembered, the story her grandfather Savely, told of the night Peter the Lordly was born: Savely told all who wanted to hear, about seeing the star that journeyed across the sky that night and to him signified the birth of another prophet. Years later, in Saskatchewan, Savely recanted the whole story. What did remain was the fact that a Mrs. Eli Savitskoff was Savely’s grand daughter. And so began my quest to find Mrs. Eli Savitskoff’s parentage: was her mother Savely’s daughter? No one living today seemed to remember her.

The Kazakoff  family.  (l-r) Stella, Tena (mother of the author) Nicholas, Annie, Nicholas and Anastasia.

Savely came to Canada with his wife, Varvara, his three sons, Nicholas, Peter and William and a married daughter, Lukeria. This information was in the Doukhobors Living in Saskatchewan in 1905. Finding his other daughter or daughters was the challenge. We had records of Savely’s three sons and their children. Mrs. Savitskoff was not their daughter. She was not the daughter of Savely’s married daughter for she had two sons. My cousin remembered a ‘Manya’ Savitskoff who was grandfather’s niece. Manya was married to Eli. So who was her mother? This information nagged at me and eluded me for nearly two years.

In February of 2005, Jonathan completed the Kazakoff history dating back to the early 18th century and emailed the record. I took this piece of information with me to a small reunion of my mother’s nieces and their families in B.C. We opened a trunk full of old pictures, searching for a picture of early years in Saskatchewan and maybe one of a woman that somebody could identify as grandfather’s missing sister. Alas, the pictures, although valuable were more recent. As I read from the history Jonathan sent me, the now great-great-great-great grandchildren of Savely Kazakoff were more interested in the Super Bowl game on television. How could I blame them? The only Doukhobor connection even their parents had was a dim memory of a little woman they called “little granny”, (Anastasia, wife of Nicholas S. Kazakoff), their great grandmother. Granny didn’t speak English and her great-grandchildren did not speak Russian. They merely exchanged smiles all the time that she lived near them. Anastasia’s grand daughter, who did speak Russian, recently wrote and lamented that she wished she had asked about our history; “I could kick myself from May to December.” (For not asking.)

It was on June 18th, when a major flood from the Red Deer River nearly destroyed all my books and records. I was devastated as I hung out sopping books and pages on a make-shift clothesline. In my mind, the project was, literally washed up! The books, however were survivors; older, pages wet with water and tears, they were ready to start over, just like the Doukhobors. I wasn’t ready to start again until the following year.

In the early months of 2006, more on-line records were made available, thanks again to Jonathan Kalmakoff’s website. In the Doukhobor Births Registered in Saskatchewan 1899-1906, I found a record for a William Savitskoff. His father’s name was Eli. His mother’s maiden name was Mary N. Masloff. Another email to Jonathan. Another search. Through Jonathan’s records of early Doukhobors in the 1886 Tax Register, he found a Daria Savelyevna Masloff, Mary’s mother, grandfather’s missing sister. Mary (Manya) had to be the Mrs. Eli Savitskoff, Savely’s granddaughter whom Eli Popoff interviewed. The piece dropped into the puzzle and I promised myself I would be content. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.

The Kazakoffs deserve more than a wooden cemetery marker, all they could afford, to perpetuate their memory. The markers have long become part of the Saskatchewan soil. I hope their memory will live on through my little red coil bound book. The title is “The Kazakoff’s, their Trials and hard won Triumphs”. The bibliography will gratefully acknowledge all the sources, especially, Jonathan Kalmakoff’s, with gratitude.

Thirty years ago my mother and I first wrote the names of my grandfather’s siblings on a single page, starting our history. While some may scoff that it’s old history, we gently remind them that if not for our Doukhobor ancestors who braved all the hardships of this new Canada, we would have a war ridden Russian history. My great-grandparents were poor. They couldn’t speak or write in English, the accepted language of Canada. Their clothes were very clean, but very different. It was my generation that was embarrassed, even ashamed. It was through my generation’s lack of interest that so much historical information was lost. It is my generation’s responsibility to restore pride in our ancestors; I can only hope that I have.

About the Author

Annie Barnes is an Alberta-based writer and playwright of Doukhobor background.  After her research on Doukhobor women, she was encouraged to plan an international Doukhobor women’s conference in 1999.  As well, she has written a a play about her Doukhobor grandmother, “Baba, I’m Home”, which premiered at the Canadian Learned Societies Meeting in Calgary in 1994.  Her article, “Doukhobor Women in the Twentieth Century” appeared in Koozma Tarasoff’s compilation, “Spirit-Wrestlers’ Voices” (Ottawa: Legas, 1998).  She is currently working on a history of the Kazakoff family of Doukhobors entitled “The Kazakoffs, their Trials and hard won Triumphs”