18 July 2009 — Maryland, USA
I really never knew my maternal grandfather. He died when I was only 14 months old. All I've ever known is what I've heard from my mother over the years.
He was born and raised in Montenegro, which for a while was part of Yugoslavia, before that country disintegrated in the 1990s. He was Serbian, and I remember asking my mother when I was a young teenager why he wasn't "Montenegrin" since that's where he was born and raised. Her answer was, "The Montenegrins are the true Serbs." I never understood what that meant until I recently began reading some history about the area.
It all goes back to the area's subjugation to the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires between the 1300s and early 1900s. Montenegro, home to many Serbs, managed to maintain more independence from the warring empires than Serbia did. That independence included cultural and religious practices. So Serbs elsewhere in the Balkans tended to regard the Serbs in Montenegro as retaining a truer Serbian identity than they could.
It's all very complex, and I don't claim to really understand much about this side of my heritage. Although my mother was born in Belgrade, she wasn't even two years old when the family came to the United States. So although my siblings and I are first generation American on that side, we were brought up as Americans, not "Serbian-Americans."
But while I've been researching my family history on my father's side for more than 10 years, I've recently been drawn to my mother's side. I hope to find out more about her ancestors, even though I don't speak or read any of the languages involved. Maybe my maternal grandparents are reaching out from the other side and giving me a nudge. My mother's never told me much about her father, but I'm hoping she'll continue to tell me things I haven't heard before like she did at Easter earlier this year. That provided the final inspiration I needed to start work on a novel....