Sunday, September 23, 2007

Long Lost Drazdoffs

This has been a pretty profound weekend for me. I've been up in the Castlegar area of British Columbia. I had two purposes for this trip. One was to attend the opening ceremonies for the Mir Centre for Peace. The other was to connect with some Drazdoff relatives of mine that I've never met.

I was not prepared for all that happened to me. I feel like I've stumbled upon a treasure chest that has been mine all along, but I never knew was there for me! I've found a spiritual heritage that I'm a part of as a Doukhobor - the "Spirit Wrestlers" who were persecuted in Russia for their religious beliefs, exiled to various areas of Russia, and later emigrated from Russia to Canada. My Russian family left Russia with the Doukhobors around the turn of the century and settled in Thrums, BC which is a few miles from Castlegar. The treasure I've found in my Doukhobor heritage will be the subject of another entry. It is a really exciting discovery for me.

The relatives I have up here are the descendants of my grandfather's brother, Paul Drazdoff. My grandfather, John, his parents and his other siblings left Canada to go to the US. The two sections of the family have not been connected in a long time. Until this weekend.

I have to back up to tell you the amazing story of how this reunion came to be. I found one of my second cousin's emails on line about 6 months ago. She and I corresponded for a while and my intention was to follow up with her and eventually meet.

I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico in June to attend a professional speaker's training workshop. There were 7 participants in this workshop. One of the other participants was from Canada. It turned out that he was a Dean of Selkirk College in Castlegar and Nelson BC. I had no idea where Thrums was located, or where Nelson or Castlegar were located in BC. I asked Angus, my new friend, if he knew where Thrums was. I was stunned when he answered that it was only a short distance from Castlegar and Nelson.

Angus invited me to attend the opening of the Mir Centre for Peace (which I will write more about in another entry). I decided to go up for the opening and to hopefully connect with this second cousin that I had found.

I emailed Nina (my second cousin who I had been emailing with a few months before). She doesn't live in Thrums anymore, but gave me her brother's phone number. Turns out her two brothers, Peter and Ron both still live on the original homestead on the Kootenay River.

I looked Peter and Ron up on the internet and discovered that the one and only entry there containing their names, was a document about the Mir Centre for Peace! Turns out they did all the electrical work in the renovation of the building that houses the Mir Centre! Ron did most of the actual labor! I couldn't believe that they were connected to the center in some way!

I called Peter about a week before I drove up to BC. He seemed interested in meeting me.

I had such a magical weekend with these two. I met them the day of the opening at the Mir Centre hours before the ceremony. As I approached the building I saw a man standing alone and he looked somehow familiar to me. I asked if he was Peter... turns out it was Ron. And so it began. Soon Peter showed up and the three of us started chatting and catching up. I was able to get a private tour of the house before the crowds descended on it later in the day. I had thought I might get to meet Peter for an hour or so... and that might be it for this first, ice breaking visit.

I ended up getting to spend the entire day with both of these guys. It was awesome. We went out for lunch together and reconstructed our family tree. We talked about the history... and the relatives that they remembered meeting. Our comfort level with each other grew stronger by the second.

Peter was able to get us tickets to a traditional Doukhobor dinner at the Brilliant Cultural Center that evening. It was wonderful. I got to experience some very familiar flavors from my youth. :)

We spent time sitting at their place on the river, with a fire going in the fire pit, reminiscing. We visited the Doukhobor museum, and I found all kinds of books and historical documents to help me research our family. I purchased Doukhobor cookbooks and music. It was fantastic.

We ate another meal at Weezie's Borsch Hut.... which was awesome!

My cousins spoiled me. Once they discovered my love of iced tea, they got me some on a couple of occasions. :) They made sure I was warm by the fire by bringing me extra coats and blankets because the night was chilly. I felt very cared for and very welcome.

We all learned a lot about our family history, and were especially excited this morning when I discovered something about our family (we're pretty sure) in one of the historical records I purchased yesterday. The record I purchased is a list of Doukhobor passenger lists from ships that came to Canada. The interesting thing is that the names are somewhat different from the names we know our family by. The ages match, however. We think we found the actual ship our immediate family came over on and the exact date that they sailed from Germany and arrived in Canada. How cool is that! It showed a family with Petro (Peter, the father, who would be our great grandfather), Avdotia (we knew our great grandmother as Dorothy), Pavel (this would be Paul... Ron and Peter's grandpa), Ivan (this would be John... my grandfather) and Agrippina (we think this would be our great aunt Grace). This is really really exciting stuff.

The three of us couldn't get over how wonderful it was to find each other and reunite the two parts of our family after 25 - 30 years of being out of communication. We all realized how important family is!

I guess the message I take away from all of this is that we so often have treasures in heritage that we are unaware of. I can't believe that I didn't find these people... or my Doukhobor heritage until I was 43 years old. That's pretty fantastic! It's never too late to discover aspects of ourselves and our past and use that new found information to enrich our future!

Got any long lost relatives or aspects of your heritage lurking in your closet? Ever thought about doing some genealogy research? You might consider it. You never know just what you'll find!! :)

L to R: Peter Drazdoff, me, Ron Drazdoff in front of
the Mir Centre for Peace which resides in a restored
Doukhobor home

L to R: Peter Drazdoff, me, Ron Drazdoff in front of
the Mir Centre for Peace

L to R: Ron Drazdoff, me, Peter Drazdoff

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