Friday, March 28, 2014

52 Ancestors: #13 Polly Poznekoff – Russian Baba

Amy Johnson Crow at No Story Too Small has issued herself and her readers a challenge for 2014. It’s called “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks”, and as Amy explains, the challenge is to “have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor”.

For the past three months of this challenge, I’ve been featuring my paternal and maternal ancestors, but now I’m changing directions to look at my husband’s family. For the 13th week, I chose Polly Poznekoff (1887-1971).

Polly was my husband’s maternal grandmother. She was born in 1887 in Russia and died in 1971 in Canada. Her obituary is available here. Polly was part of a large group of Doukhobors who immigrated to Canada in 1899 to seek a life free from the religious intolerance they had known in Tsarist Russia. She settled in Saskatchewan, married George Cazakoff, and had a family. Late in life, she lived with her only daughter Ann and her family that included her grandson Michael, my husband.
Polly Cazakoff and Michael Demoskoff
Polly (back, left) with some of her grandchildren, including Michael (centre), about 1962

Recently, I did a short interview with my husband to record some of his memories of his grandmother.

Q: What did you call your grandmother?
A: I called her Baba, which is short for Babushka (grandmother in Russian).

Q: What are some of your memories of your grandmother?
A: She made great borscht and other Doukhobor food like pyrahi [small baked vegetable-filled pastries], piroshky [the fruit tart version of pyrahi], and vareniki [perogies]. I remember one time (I was about 9 or 10 years old) when I must have had a very small breakfast and by 11 o’clock I was hungry again. She said lunch isn’t ready yet, why don’t you have a soda pop [to fill you up]. There was some pop in our basement, so I had an Orange Crush; half a bottle satisfied me until lunch.

Q: What languages did your grandmother speak at home?
A: Russian mostly, with very few English words only to my sister Margaret and me.

Q: Do you remember hearing your grandmother describe her life? What did she say?
A: I remember my mother, my sister and I would sit in the living room listening to my grandmother telling stories about life in Russia. Too bad I didn’t record these stories. The only one I remember is the one when she said when they [Doukhobors] first made plans to come to Canada, they heard that the soil was very rich and needed rocks and pebbles to break it up. She said everyone that was travelling to Canada decided to take as many rocks as they could in their luggage and clothing (pockets). The story went that when the ship sailed it was riding low in the water. When the captain found out that the passengers were hiding rocks, he had everybody throw the rocks overboard. Personally, this story doesn’t make sense (bringing rocks and weighted ship), so I assume it was folklore.

Copyright © 2014, Yvonne Demoskoff.

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