WATERTOWN — On the weekend of April 9-10, for the first time an Armenian Genealogy Conference was held in Watertown, Massachusetts at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center (ACEC). More than 300 people attended the two-day conference, some coming from as far as Great Britain and Vancouver, Canada.
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 important 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, Mark Arslan, gave 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 link individuals to various records. He also explained how others can help in transcribing records.
Vahe Tachjian, the director of Houshamadyan.org, spoke of the project’s aim to “reconstruct Ottoman Armenian town and village life.” He gave examples of important memory items that supply important context, particularly for genealogists. He also explained how people can help expand the project. Afterward, both Houshamadyan and Project Save, one of the sponsoring organizations, had booths were conference attendees shared their own photographs, family trees and other memory items, as well as learn more about these two important Armenian institutions.
Following lunch, Luc Baronian, a linguistics professor at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, spoke of the importance of the books, periodicals and other information contained in the records of the 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 for genealogists.
The final speakers for the day were Janet Achoukian Andreopoulos and Stephen Kurkjian. Andreopoulos supplied a brief explanation of the different DNA tests 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 through step-by-step 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, the village origins of conference attendees was divided into 12 regions and throughout the day photographs were taken of attendees with origins from each of the regions. DNA kits from Family Tree DNA were also made available at a discount.
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 are available through the NAASR youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdRrck-rS7HnGUf-ec6nX_g5g6QXISfIJ). A slide-show of photographs taken by Ken Martin is also available on-line (http://westernarmenia.weebly.com/armenian-genealogy-conference-2016.html).
On Sunday, co-sponsors Project Save, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) and the Armenian Museum of America (AMA) opened their doors to conference participants to learn more about their missions, extensive collections 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.