Climbing Family Trees: The Angel of Graziskiai by Diane Rooney

Climbing Family Trees

More great stories, poems, and helpful hints about genealogy and searching for your family's roots from the twin authors of "Climbing Family Trees: Whispers In The Leaves"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Angel of Graziskiai by Diane Rooney

“The Angel of Gražiškiai”
Diane (Kerelevicius, Bernota) Rooney,
Lithuanian Genealogical Society Membership Director
It was a cool day for June in Lithuania, and a steady rain had been falling all morning— not ideal weather for exploring rural ceme­teries. My cousins, Zita Kerelevičiūtė and Agnė Rasimavičiūtė, and I, as well as Agnė’s grandfather, Jonas Rasimavičius, our driver, were wet, muddy, and discouraged. We had been searching the ceme­tery of St. Michael the Archangel church in Gražiš­kiai for over an hour, looking for the grave of my great-great-grandmother, Magdalena Daugirdžiutė Kerelevičienė, who died in December 1922. The cemetery’s layout was irregular, and recent burials had been made around older graves as the church­yard had filled. The wet and worn stones were hard to read, and we used our fingers and the points of our umbrellas to scrape mud and moss from them.

Just the day before, working with professional genealogist Sigita Gasparavičienė, I had seen Magdalena’s name in St. Michael’s death register in the Lithuanian State Archives in Vilnius, indicating she had been buried in the church cemetery. The chance to see my family’s parish church and pay respects at my great-great-grandmother’s grave was exciting. Perhaps the journey that had started nine years before in conversations with my grandfather, William Bernota, had reached a signi­ficant destination on that summer day in 2002, one with evidence that would take my family’s roots back before 1850.

Cemetery and construction workers told us when we arrived that most of the old graves were gone, destroyed years before by the Soviets. We had searched anyway, but without success. On our way back to the car, Zita saw an elderly woman and asked her if she knew the location of Magdalena’s grave. Miraculously, she said, “Yes, I believe she is buried very near my father,” and led us directly to the grave. We could not believe our luck. If we had not encountered our Angel of Gražiškiai, I would never have seen Magdalena’s last resting place. Our angel, whose name was Ona , posed for a picture in the cemetery and promised to keep an eye on Great-Great-Grandma for us.

Like many genealogists, I found Magdalena by slowly working backward in time, from my grandfather, to his mother and her siblings, to their mother. I relied on a mixture of family recollections, persistence, luck and random acts of kindness. My path never moved in a straight line, but wandered across five branches of the family, two continents, and records in three languages. I’m glad I never gave up!

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