July 10, 2002
Family finds link to past
Russian, Albion families meet via Net
ALBION -- Mike Egnatuk said everybody in Albion who shares his last name is a relative, stemming from the immigration of one Eastern European woman and her three children nearly a century ago.
But the family grew recently for the Albion clan when a long-lost relative from Belarus contacted them.
They credit the Internet with making the international connection.
"I had always wondered how we could go about getting in touch with them," said Jo Ducheney, whose maiden name is Egnatuk. "If he hadn't contacted us, I doubt we'd ever contacted them because we didn't know where they were."
Sergei Ignatuk -- the Old World spelling of the surname -- initiated the e-mail exchanges by signing the Albion guest book on www.albionmich.com. after coming across an old photograph of his great-grandfather, Alexander Egnatuk. He had a similar photograph of the family, perhaps taken the same day.
"I have come to a conclusion that I am on a correct way," he wrote on the Web site's guest book using an Internet translator. "Dear Frank Passic, will you please help me to search for documents, material, photos of my ancestors stayed on the American ground and also their descendants living now in U.S.A."
Passic, who is interest in Albion's history, put him in touch with Mike Egnatuk, whose father and grandmother came to Albion in the early 20th century. Alexander Egnatuk was the brother of Egnat Egnatuk, Mike Egnatuk's father.
"A bunch of pictures of our family are on this Web page," said Mike Egnatuk, who had eight siblings, most of whom stayed in Albion. "This cousin who contacted us knew there were relatives over here, but he didn't know where."
It's been hard for the Albion family and their Russian relatives to piece together a family history before their communications began. Apparently, the two families lost touch in the 1950s. Mike Egnatuk said his father was reluctant to discuss his Russian roots because of widespread fears of Communism in the United States around that time.
Since the November posting by Sergei Ignatuk, the families have kept in touch. They rely mostly on the Internet and a computer program that translates English into Russian and vice versa.
"When I saw that, I thought, 'Boy.' I got real excited," Passic said. "This is so satisfying, as a historian, to bring people together."
The Egnatuk family of Albion arrived in the small industrial city in the early 1900s and lived among the large Russian population brought there to work at the Malleable Iron Co., the now-defunct Hayes-Albion plant. Helen Egnatuk, the first to arrive, had four children and reportedly ran a boarding house. She became the liaison between the Russian community and the factory. Passic calls her "the matriarch of the local Russian community."
Three of her children stayed in Albion but one, Alexander Egnatuk, returned to the family's hometown of Kobryn and eventually lost touch with the others.
Ducheney, who has been researching her family's history since ninth grade, said either he went back to buy land or to fight in the Russian Revolution. The country became part of the Soviet occupation shortly after his return.
Shortly after finding each other, the Albion Egnatuks and Eastern European Ignatuks started to send copies of records and photographs, some of them from the early 1900s and similar to the one that first brought them together. They sent birth records and death certificates. They started to become familiar, becoming more convinced of their relations, and exchanged recent photographs and Christmas cards.
"I on seventh sky from happiness!!" Sergei wrote in one of his e-mails. "It's a miracle! This picture is delightful. Appreciably that these people from Russia."
That is how the Egnatuk clan feels. Ducheney and Egnatuk, along with a host of other family members, are eager to plan a trip to Belarus. Getting a guest visa is not easy in that part of the country, but they want to see the town their family left a century ago.
"Go back?" Mike Egnatuk said. "It's all we talk about."
Christine Iwan covers Albion. She can be reached at 966-0684 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Cousins Mike Egnatuk and Jo Ducheney, above, were discovered over the Internet by a family member from Belarus.
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