Aneta Stamulis Peyovich (1895-1981)
A memorial to my Greek (and Bohemian) grandmother from Serbia. I hope to find lost family connections. Comments from family and friends are especially welcome.
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Introduction - A Grandmother's Assistance
9 May 2009 | Libertyville, IL
I took the uploaded photographs of my grandparents' grave and the outside of the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Monastery Church on 9 May 2009. I hadn't been back to the cemetery since my grandmother died in 1981. But I'm working on a novel that in part draws from my Serbian heritage on my mother's side of the family, and I thought a visit to the St. Sava Serbian Monastery and cemetery would provide some inspiration for the story.
I had a vague recollection of where the plot was located, and I was absolutely sure the marker was in the Latin alphabet, not Cyrillic. I couldn't find the grave as I walked the rows and so I did what so many genealogists do -- I started asking my grandparents for help (internally -- not out loud!).
My gaze fell on a stone, and I saw the name 'Aneta' -- but since it wasn't in the Latin alphabet, I thought it was the wrong stone, and I kept on walking. My 4-foot 11-inch grandmother must have wanted to kick the backside of my 5-foot 6-inches right then and there.
A few minutes later I called my mother to ask for her help, and she told me the marker was in Cyrillic. DOH! So much for surprising her when I got home by showing her the photos.
Finally knowing that, I did manage to find the grave again.
So I wanted to take the time to thank my grandmother publicly for her help, both in finding the grave and in providing inspiration and ideas for the book.
By the way, I wasn't completely wrong about the use of the Latin alphabet on the grave. The marker for my grandfather's World War I service is in English. That must be what I had remembered.
Aneta's Parents - Updated 6 August 2011
ca. 1840s-1890s | Belgrade, Serbia
The parents of Aneta Stamulis Peyovich were George (or Gregorios) Stamulis (also spelled Stamoulis) and Helen Hannush (also spelled Hannusch). According to my mother, Helen Hannush was born and raised in Prague, Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. As a young woman who was raised Catholic, she fell in love with a young Jewish man, or so the story goes. Her parents apparently were unwilling to accept this relationship, and they sent her to Belgrade, Serbia, to live with an uncle who owned a factory. There, she met George (Gregorios) Stamulis.
George (Gregorios) Stamulis was said to be "much older" than Helen. I don't know if this means 10 years, 20 years, or even more. But based on the few photographs I've seen, I don't think he would have been more than 25 years older than she. He was living in Belgrade, but he was Greek. The story on him is that he fled "Greece" to avoid conscription into the Ottoman army. He was working as a tutor for a private family in Belgrade when he met Helen and they married.
I'm not sure where George (Gregorios) Stamulis was actually born and raised. The core area of Greece obtained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1810s, and I don't believe George (Gregorios) could have been born before 1840. This suggests he was from an area that hadn't yet gained its independence at the time. My grandmother apparently told my mother that he was from one of the islands. My mother said it sounded like "Circe," but she didn't know what it really was. She is sure it wasn't Cyprus.
Both George (Gregorios) and Helen must have come from families of some means. After all, Helen had a uncle who owned a factory in Serbia, and George (Gregorios) must have been very well-educated to work as a tutor for a wealthy family.
When Aneta was young, Helen apparently made a trip back to Prague to see her family. She was said to have been very homesick and stayed with her family for an extended time. But the time came, my mother thinks it was about two years, when she went back to Belgrade to rejoin her husband.
Helen Hannush Stamulis remained in Belgrade when her only child, Aneta, immigrated to the United States with her husband and eldest three children. George (Gregorios) died when Aneta was in her late teens or early twenties. Life must have been difficult both during the war and after, when Yugoslavia became a Communist state. My grandmother apparently got help from the Red Cross after the war to track down her mother and find out she was still alive and well.
Later in life, Helen was cared for by another family. She gave them her pension money in exchange. If I had been in her position, I'm not sure I could have stayed in Yugoslavia while my only child moved to the United States. It must have been a difficult decision. I know so little about this side of the family, but maybe she had brothers and sisters to whom she stayed close.
Update - 6 August 2011. It was late in her life that Aneta identified her father's name in photographs as George. But a cousin recently told me that Aneta had told her mother the name was Gregorios. That was around 1950, when Aneta was a much younger woman, and her memory was probably more accurate.
Aneta's Early Days
early 1900s | Belgrade, Serbia
My grandmother was an only child. Her father was reportedly much older than her mother and died when Aneta was in her early twenties.
Aneta's parents must have come from families of some means since her childhood was fairly privileged. To begin with, her godfather was the Greek ambassador to Serbia. My mother has a wonderful photograph of him in his uniform with many medals (see the photo with this story), and my grandmother said his name was Dimitrios Metaxo. She was well-educated, and there was a maid who helped her with her hair. You have to realize, her hair was nearly floor-length. In the photo uploaded above, you can see it draping over the chair. Although she was only about 5-feet tall, she was a very striking woman.
Aneta would have been a very modern young woman after World War I and before she married. She worked at the Bank of France in Belgrade as a translator. I'm not sure how many languages she spoke in addition to her native Serbian, but she knew German (her mother's native tongue) and French, and she may also have spoken Greek. She also liked to go to the track and bet on horse races.
I would love to have known her at this point of her life, when she probably thought the world was full of promise after the First World War. Who would have predicted the Great Depression and World War II?
Coming to America
17 June 1929 | New York, NY
In the summer of 1929, with three young children, Aneta and her husband immigrated to the United States. Her jewelry and other family possessions had been sold to pay for the trip. Her husband was already an American citizen and so the children were too by birth. The family was heading to Detroit, where her husband had family. She had 25 dollars with her when she arrived.
The children were 4, 3, and 2 years in age, probably too young for much of the trip to make much of an impression on them. (Although the eldest remembers getting lost on the ship, and the ship's staff couldn't understand him since they didn't speak Serbian.) But what did Aneta think about during the 10-day trip from Genoa, Italy? Was she excited about coming to a new country to live? Or would she have preferred to stay home in Belgrade? Did she think that she might never see her mother again? Did she think this would provide her children with the opportunity for a better life? Although Aneta spoke at least two languages fluently, she didn't know English, and she would have to start learning it in her 30s. It's not easy to pick up a new language at that age, especially one that's so different from Serbian.
My grandmother never wanted to speak much about her life back in Europe. My mother would try to get her to talk about her family, but Aneta would say things like "Why do you want to know about that? That was a long time ago in another place." Only rarely did she open up and tell a few stories. That has always made me think she regretted the move and leaving her old life behind. However, that was still in the future.
But on 17 June 1929, Aneta arrived at the port of New York with perhaps thousands of other immigrants. She and her family would soon board a train for the trip to Detroit and a new life in a new country.
I'm Greek -- Not Serbian
ca. 1945 | Chicago, IL
Traditional cultures in southern and central Europe are strongly patrilineal - one's ethnic and family identities are traced through the father's line rather than the mother's. When a woman marries, she becomes a member of her husband's family, and their family ties and cultural practices and identities become hers.
Aneta was born and raised in Serbia, but her father was Greek and her mother, Bohemian. When Aneta came to the United States in 1929, her nationality was recorded as "Greek" rather than "Serbian." And when she became an American citizen, it was noted that her former nationality was Greek. This is somewhat atypical -- since she was married to a Serbian husband, it could have been culturally correct to say her nationality was Serbian. But by other standards, Greek was correct since her father was a Greek citizen, and Aneta also would have been. Then again, since she was born and raised in Serbia, it might seem natural to many Americans for her to have said she was Serbian. But nationality and ethnicity are often two very separate things, something many Americans don't realize.
When her children were growing up, they would have heard Aneta speaking Serbian as her native language. And they knew their mother was born and raised in Serbia. Although I don't know what my uncle and aunts knew about their mother's heritage in their teenage years, I do know what my mother told me about one of her experiences at the time.
One day Aneta and Luka were arguing about something, and my mother overheard them. At one point Aneta must have been really angry and made a comment about Luka being a Serb. My mother didn't understand that at all. To her knowledge, Aneta was Serbian. When things cooled down, my mother asked Aneta what she meant by the comment since she was Serbian too. My grandmother apparently said, in a huff, "I'm Greek -- not Serbian."
It was only then, when she was about 16 or 17, that my mother learned she was part Greek -- not just Serbian as she had always thought.
But even with this radical comment and more than 10 years in America, Aneta hadn't fully thrown off the patrilineal cultures in which she'd been raised. She didn't say she was Greek AND Bohemian.
This cultural identity stayed with Aneta all her life, even after she came to live with our family in 1975. She never fully thought of either my aunt's children or my siblings and me as her "true" grandchildren. To her mind, my "true" grandparents were my father's parents.
This was a difficult concept for me to grasp at the time. It really wasn't until I went to college and majored in Anthropology that I began to fully understand just how different my mother's upbringing had been from mine. And even though I had some idea growing up that my own background was different from that of my friends, I think it's only recently that I've recognized just how different it was.
My Memories of Aneta -- Too Few
1970s | Illinois
I came around late in the lives of my grandparents. I was the surprise child born more than 11 years after my closest siblings. Aneta was 67 when I was born. Although we didn't live that far from her, about 70 miles, we didn't go see her that often. After all, we were a daughter's family and so our family was really our father's family, not my mother's.
I was very shy as a child (still am!), and I usually would sit quietly in some corner while the adults talked. I probably had some books with me or a few small toys to play with. My grandmother lived in an old brick apartment building, and I can only remember a few things about it.
The image that stands out most in my memory is of a puzzle that was glued together and then framed and hung on a wall. It was a view of some old European city along a river or coast. To this day I don't know which city it was, but I have to believe it was one in Yugoslavia or one that reminded my grandmother of home.
Not long before she moved in with us I can remember that my parents and I were in the area visiting other relatives, and we dropped in unannounced at my grandmother's. She didn't answer the door, and my parents checked on places in the area that they knew she frequented. They weren't finding her, and I know my mother was getting worried. I don't quite remember if we saw her walking on one of the nearby streets or went back to her apartment and she was there. So in the summer of 1975 Aneta came to live with us. She was getting older, and my mother was worried about her living alone, especially if something happened and no one was around to help.
If I could go back to one point in my past and change one thing, this would be it. I would tell my then 12-year-old self to not be so shy around my grandmother. I enjoyed the few stories she would tell about her past, but I never seriously tried to get her to say more. I know on my few attempts she told me what she told my mother -- that was a long time ago in another place.
But I think if I could have been more persistent and patient, then she would have opened up more to me. I've often heard that grandparents will tell their grandchildren things they never told their own children. I might have been able to learn more about my maternal ancestry and some of the events that ultimately led to my existence. But more importantly, it might also have made my grandmother happier.
Final Resting Place
24 March 1981 | Libertyville, IL
Aneta is buried in the St Sava Serbian Orthodox Cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois. She outlived my grandfather by more than 17 years. I remember visiting my grandfather's grave every Memorial Day weekend with my parents when I was little, but I don't remember my grandmother ever being there. After we finished weeding and placing fresh flowers there, we would stop in the church so my mother could light a candle for her father.
But through the years, I've always remembered the church had plain white walls. So when I went to visit my grandparents' grave in 2009 for the first time since my grandmother's funeral in 1981, I couldn't believe my eyes. Every inch of the interior of the church was painted in stunning frescos. I returned in 2010 and one of the young seminarians was in the church that day. He said the frescos were done in 2008 by a Serbian artist from Belgrade. The uploaded photos for this story were taken by a friend of mine who is an incredible photographer. I wish I had half her skills with a camera. Even with her eye for great images, she had a hard time knowing where to begin.
I think my grandparents would be happy with the change.