ketvirtadienis, vasario 23, 2017

Peculiar Path from Las Vegas to Lithuania

Written by Adas Viliušis

Imagine that one day you pack your suitcase and utterly alone fly out for a month to an unfamiliar country located on the other side of the world. Sounds crazy, but catchy, doesn’t it? Who would not like to discover and explore other cultures, customs, cuisine and establish a friendship with its members?

Anna checking Lithuanian map (Photo: Adas Viliušis)
However, the story of Anna Wollenzien-Kamin is more than just a desire to discover a new country and its culture.

A thirty-four-year old elementary school teacher from Las Vegas was led off to Lithuania, as she says, by God himself, who has bestowed her the highest value – the family.

Namely, Lithuanian family ties impelled Anna to visit our country since her husband is a Lithuanian-American whose ancestors more than a hundred years ago left Vištytis for a country across the Atlantic ocean.

So, she left her spouse with their three and a four-year-old daughters and exchanged the bustling world's entertainment capital, Las Vegas, for three weeks to a tranquil, mysterious, and bountiful Lithuania full of interesting discoveries and promises.

Husband isn't interested in Lithuania

While listening to the stories of Anna, some immediately raise the question, “Why does she, being an American, feel such a great attraction and affection for Lithuania and what makes her determined to find out as much as possible about her husband's ancestors who lived in Lithuania?”

According to Anna, her interest in her husband's genealogy is mostly stimulated by a feeling of gratitude and respect for her father-in-law who is Lithuanian.

“I spent many countless hours and late nights discussing his family history. I found it quite entertaining and interesting. I kept a small journal of his stories and tried to understand the family relationships,” recalls Anna.

Meanwhile, neither Anna’s husband nor his siblings exude such enthusiasm. Being of Lithuanian origin, they strangely seem uninterested in Lithuania. However, it appears that, they have their own reasons.

“My father-in-law has three children, all of whom have abandoned him in his old age. They have rejected him for different reasons, all of which would make a fantastic soap opera or dramatic novel.

He has another son from a previous marriage that keeps his distance, calls once a year, perhaps, but doesn’t seek out his heritage.

I knew that his children would not take an interest in the family heritage. They know many of the family stories, and even appear bored of hearing them. Even if he had asked them to participate, they might refuse just out of spite. I know in my heart that it comes down to me,” replies Anna.

The tragic family history

During the long evenings Anna used to listen to her father-in-law’s stories with great interest. One of the stories told by her father-in-law William and his younger brother Thomas vividly replays in her mind.

Circa 1900 or decades earlier in the fields of Vištytis working farmers were suddenly attacked by the Russian Cossacks riding horses. They slayed several working farmers.

Among the victims was Anna’s father-in-law’s great-grandfather Jonas Vieraitis. This is the story often told to Anna’s father-in-law by his grandmother with tears in her eyes who as a young woman witnessed the massacre.

Unfortunately, neither Anna nor the people near the history of the region have yet to find more precise details of this cruel event.

The trip planned for several years

Having collected plenty of valuable information from her father-in-law and also an accumulation through electronic archives, Anna’s trip to Lithuania became a quick reality.

Through social networks, she got acquainted with a genealogist from Lithuania, who also helped her establish communication with the living descendants of her husband's family tree.

“Having my genealogist, Vincas Bundza, at my side on this journey was an answer to many prayers. He knew exactly where to drive us, what to search, who to call and arrange family visits with and translated everything for me.”

Initially, Anna had planned to come to Lithuania together with her father-in-law, however, he had to cancel his journey because of his health issues. And none of the relatives wanted to fly to Lithuania, so Anna went solo.

“Lithuania is the first trip I have taken on my own across seas and also at a moments notice. I just felt inspired and compelled to go, and so I booked it and weeks later I was on my way. But please don't think it was a spree or hasty decision. It was not. I had planned in my mind for several years all the cities and villages I would stop at in Lithuania. All the important venues were based completely around my husband's Lithuanian kin. I marked and dropped pins at all of his known ancestors birth towns, and also all living descendants of the ancestors.”

When asked whether or not she was afraid to go to another part of the world, she firmly states that she had a lot of time to prepare for a trip mentally as well.

“After speaking via Skype, Facebook and through email for four years I was more than prepared mentally to take a leap of faith and travel half way around the world. The country was unfamiliar, but the people were not. They felt like family before I even arrived,” says Anna.

Visited nineteen families

However, Anna was a little concerned about how in such a short period of time to keep up with the numerous visits to all the places and relatives she was interested in meeting.

Although the time ran out to meet with some people, during her stay in Lithuania Anna was able to meet with nineteen families across the country.

“It is difficult to say the exact number of how many relatives I met. I lost track of how many people I visited since one family member would call another and tell them to invite me over. This happened often. I did make sure to take a photo with everyone and also record in my daily journal of the visits. I cannot say for certain if all the individuals I met with are directly related to my husband's family line, but I have received the warmest welcome from each and every person,” she states with a smile.

After returning to her country Anna tries to maintain the relationships with her husband’s relatives living in Lithuania. Now she is self-learning the Lithuanian language so she can communicate with the locals during her second trip to Lithuania.

Anna at family reunion in Vištytis.
Motivated by faith

Anna is a religious woman, who every weekend attends a local worship. She professes Mormonism. Like for many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, family history is a significant part of Anna’s life.

“We believe that family relationships continue beyond death; it is imperative that each and every person is given the opportunity to take part in eternal families.

Genealogy is an important work that should be completed by all families on this earth. Knowing where we come from, a history of who we are, initiates progress.

I believe that every individual on earth is of great worth, whether they are living or have passed on to the next life we are all loved by our Father in Heaven. We cannot forget where we came from. We learn from those before us. We can uphold family name and honour,” Anna declares.

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