Sunday, July 12, 2009

Coming to America, Armenian Style

I started doing some genealogy/family history research a couple of years ago, mostly over the last two summers. I was amazed at what I was able to find online, at least for my mother's side of the family. (I took advantage of's free trial...)

This is the S.S. Majestic, the ship that brought my maternal grandfather's parents & siblings to the United States. My grandfather was the youngest in his family, and was born six months after the family arrived in the United States.

Please see my earlier post, explaining their long journey to the United States. The book I referenced before, Memory Fragments from the Armenian Genocide, says that their port of departure was Marseilles, France, and that they arrived at Ellis Island on April 16th, 1924.

The Majestic's passenger list shows an arrival date of April 9th, 1924, and shows their departure port as Cherbourg, France.

This is a crop of the Majestic's passenger list, showing:

My great grandfather Krikor Janigian, great grandmother Elmas Janigian née Galolyan, great uncle Aram, great uncle Gorun (sounds like "Go-den"), and great aunt Areka (sounds like "Ah-day-ka").

My Auntie Areka is in her late 90s and still going strong---kicking around in high heels, even! Uncle Aram died before I was born, but Uncle Gorun was around when I was a kid. Every time my sister and cousin and I saw him he'd give us each a crisp new dollar bill---he always made sure his money was brand new. (He was married to my grandmother's sister, my great aunt Margaret. So two brothers, my grandfather and his brother, married two sisters, my grandmother and her sister.)

Elmas' mother Miriam Galolyan was killed in Marash in 1922, a victim of the Armenian Genocide.

Here is the uncropped passenger list.

This is the passenger record entry for Krikor from (it's free!) It shows an arrival date of April 15th, 1924, and lists Cherbourg as the departure port. I don't know the reason for the discrepancies, but I'm looking into it. Also, this shows his ethnicity as Turkish, but should read Armenian. You can see on the Majestic's passenger list (above) that someone crossed out Turkish and wrote in Armenian.

This is the Port of Arrival Manifest from Ellis Island, April 15 1924. Krikor is entry #7, Elmas #8, Aram #9, Gorun #10 and Areka #11. It seems to say that Krikor had a "scar on front." I also thought this was interesting: while the Yugoslavian family recorded above them is listed as having "fair" complexions, my family is listed as having "brown" complexions.

This is my great grandfather Krikor's naturalization card. That's his signature! Boston, 1926. Here you see my great uncle Artin listed---he also went by Harry. He was the oldest child and was still in Marseilles at the time. Also, this shows my grandfather Garabed (now Charles) as being 1 in 1926, but he was born in October of 1924. My mother tells me that Krikor was illiterate, and that most likely somebody had taught him how to sign his name, or helped him write it.

This is my great grandmother Elmas' naturalization card.

At some point the family name was changed from Janigian to Janikian. I think it was just one of those things where somebody at some office somewhere got it wrong in the records and it stuck. Janigian comes from the word Janig, which means "darling." The -ian/-yan ending is a good way to spot an Armenian family name. It just means "son of" and it's the equivalent of the -son in Johnson.

The -t at the end of her name here is also just a typo. The naturalization date of 1961 is much later than my grandfather's, but the birth date is close to what the passenger list shows for her (age 40 in 1924= b. 1884.) She was illiterate, and you can see that she made her mark here. My mother tells me that Elmas had to take her citizenship test through an interpreter~~~and that most likely, the interpreter provided the answers for her.

This is a crop of a 1930 census. It lists Krikor & Almas (Elmas) and their children: Harry (Artin), Aram, Gordon (a typo of Gorun), Arika (Areka) and Garabed (my grandfather!) At this time they were living at 14 Willow Park, Watertown MA.

It also lists Harry (Astur/Azadur) Nargisian, as a boarder in their house. My mother remembers him from when she was a kid. Harry Nargisian was Krikor's best friend and the godfather of all the children. He outlived Krikor. My grandfather says that he was Harry's favorite godchild, and he'd take him on lots of outings. Apparently Harry had had a wife and children back in Marash----all of whom were killed.

Elmas' name is spelled Almas here. My mother's christening name was Almas, after her grandmother, and she later changed her legal name (Andrea) to Almas, as well.

This lists Krikor's occupation as "Storekeeper" in a "Confectionary." My grandfather says that Krikor never had a candy shop, but did run a small convenience-type store in South Boston, amongst other things. Gorun was a barber in a barber shop. Artin is listed as a shoemaker in a shoe store. Aram is listed as doing "outsoles" in a rubber shop. Areka is listed as being a "cementer" in the rubber shop. The boarder, Harry is listed as being a "cutter" in the rubber shop. My mother tells me that a lot of Armenians in Watertown worked at the rubber factory, Hood Rubber.

The census lists everyone's US arrival dates:

Krikor first came in 1912---he had to flee early, as you can see in my prior post. He had expected to be able to send for the rest of the family soon after, and was sending them money. But he lost track of them when they themselves had to flee.

Eventually they found each other----Krikor was playing backgammon with some other Armenians in Watertown, and a man came and said he'd heard of a lady stranded in Port Said in Egypt with her children, whose husband was missing. Krikor asked the name---it was Janigian! Krikor had had the Red Cross looking for them, and when he gave the Red Cross the new information, the family was reunited. Krikor sent them tickets to get to Marseilles, and then traveled to Marseille to meet them.

Elmas, Aram & Areka first came in 1924. (Krikor accompanied them back.) Artin first came in 1928. Harry Nargisian also came in 1924.

Here is the uncropped census.


I was able to find some records for my maternal grandmother's family, as well.

Their story is interesting, too, but different. My grandmother's father Caspar Jookjookian came to the U.S. as an immigrant, rather than a refugee---the census below shows that he came in 1904, well before the Armenian Genocide.

The family name, Jookjookian, became Jojokian at some point. (Probably also through some bureaucratic mistake.) My grandmother says that the name comes for the Armenian word for "rich."

This is Caspar's draft registration card. It's hard to read, but it's dated 1918. You can see his signature at the bottom left! It lists his occupation as "Shoe cobbler," and lists his birth date as Nov. 15, 1884. My great grandmother Takuhi (Takouhi) is listed here as his wife.

Takouhi has a really interesting story. We don't know for sure what her maiden name was. (My grandmother thinks the name might have been either Vartanian or Shahinian.) She was an orphan. Her grandparents were taking care of her and her sister when they were very little, but they became too old to take care of them, and the girls went to an orphanage. Takouhi grew up in an American Armenian Congregational orphanage in Marash---so while my grandfather's family were all Armenian Orthodox, and my grandmother's father Caspar was Armenian Orthodox, Takouhi was Protestant. (Takouhi's sister grew up in a different orphanage, across the street. They played together.) Takouhi converted when she married Caspar, but went back to attending Congregational services after his death.

So here's what happened: Caspar wanted an Armenian wife, and (the story goes) he wanted a wife who didn't have a lot of family who he'd have to help bring over. So he asked his mother to go back to Marash and find him a wife from one of the orphanages. He told his mother he'd like a wife with green eyes.

Takouhi had green eyes, and the rest is history. Caspar's mother brought her back to the U.S. to marry Caspar. The census below shows that she came to the U.S. in 1913.

Takouhi lost track of her sister when she came to the U.S., but they managed to find each other later on in life. The sister had ended up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My great aunt Margaret went to visit them, many years ago.

Caspar died when my grandmother Laura was only 5 (her sister Margaret was 15.) With Caspar's death, my grandmother's family was thrown into abject poverty. They had to go on government assistance. Takouhi started cleaning houses, took in ironing work, and worked in a factory at times. My grandmother has told me stories about wearing dresses sewn out of flour sacks, and about how each member of the family got a banana once a week as their very special treat. But in the end Takouhi worked hard and was able to provide for her children, who went on to lead successful lives.

This is a crop of a 1930 census showing Caspar & Takoohi (Takouhi) and their children: Margaret, Aram (my grandfather & grandmother each had a brother named Aram), George and "Flora." That's a typo of Laura---my grandmother's name! There was one more child in the family, Robert, but he wasn't born yet here. Aram & George have passed away.

The census shows that Takouhi was 35 in 1930, so she was 18 when she came to the U.S. in 1913. That means she was born ~1895. Caspar was 45 in 1930, and his draft card shows his birth date as 1884.

Here is the uncropped census.


Anonymous said...

Hello there ;-)

In Armenia we say exactly how it was changed to "Janik" with K...It is Eastern Armenian...

Jessica said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jessica said...

If you still manage this blog, please email me at I am the granddaughter of George Jojokian and would love to talk to you more! Great info here, some of which I had no idea! Thank you!

Storm'n Norm'n said...

I too had a name change in my went from Hoban to Hooben all because of the line one brother was in. The other brother remained a Hoban and settled in the Boston area while the Hooben brother settled about 35 miles south of Boston. Tracing the Hoban name makes me a descendant of James A. Hoban, architect of the White House