Thursday, February 25, 2021

One Problem About Finding Our Roots


There's one problem with that big, happy, universal ideal of everyone wanting to find their roots: not everyone can do it.

Not, at least, now.

While there's been a noble effort mounted, over the past many decades, to digitize the world's records so we can piece together the story of families from every country, we still slant toward European-centric, Latin alphabet-oriented record sets. There still are some countries for which, at least at the repositories which cater to genealogists on this side of the world, there are absolutely no resources available.

Take my difficulty in researching my godmother's roots. While Genia Melnitchenko was obviously born to parents having a surname which is readily recognizable to Ukrainians and Russians, there is a hidden tangle embedded in her heritage: the origin of her mother.

Lydia Melnitchenko was born with a surname also sounding quite Russian—rendered phonetically as Leonoff when she arrived in the United States—but she was born in a city whose residents didn't, as the foundation of their native language, use the Russian (or even Ukrainian) Cyrillic alphabet

That would leave me—if I could access any of the records in the native language of the country where Lydia was born—trying to read a script which looks something like this:

როგორ კითხულობთ ამას?

Translation: "How do you read that?"

My question, precisely. Or, to get more particular about how to read such documents: how would I even be able to access such records? If you look at the world's premiere aggregator of documents of genealogical interest, there are absolutely no records from Georgia listed as available at Yet.

That means wondering how to learn the language of the Georgians, with its mesmerizing script, is not a challenge worth tackling right now—for me, at least. Which is probably just as well: the Kartvelian languages which emerged from the people groups of the south Caucasus region are unlike any other, making it, by definition, one of the world's primary language families.

I did, in my original foray into the possibility of just how to proceed with fudging my way through Georgian documents—if there were any to be found, here on the other side of this quarantined earth—find some interesting reflections on the experience of learning such a unique language. One blogging student, after the disorienting experience of a first attempt at learning not the vocabulary, but merely the letters of the Georgian alphabet, realized this must be the same feeling experienced by young students who are tasked with their first exposure to reading—and that, in their native language. Incredibly, I managed to find a post by a linguist who blogged about the comparison of English and Georgian. And a few websites which offer to teach the hapless genealogist the Georgian language—or at least offer some fascinating tidbits about this language spoken by only four million people

Yes, there are really people out there writing about the Georgian language. Just not the people who would be most likely to cut the deal necessary to digitize the vital records which have become stock in trade for family history researchers pursuing their roots in a place like Georgia.



  1. All I can think of is one word. Yikes.

    1. Yeah. I was pretty floored when I first saw that script, too. Can't even begin to find a toe-hold for my brain to grab and wrestle with it.


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