For the last three years I’ve been involved with the process of closing and selling the church where I grew up. It was a sad time, but also a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with old friends, form new friendships, and learn more than I ever knew about the history of the church—and my family’s involvement in it.
The other Armenian churches in the city called ours “the Ninth St Church.” They were Apostolic churches. We were Protestant – Congregational, to be exact. I think they called us that because the reality was our real name was so-o-o-o long: The United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church.
My first read of the earliest history of the church, covering 1906-1946, alerted me to my ancestors’ intimate connection with the formation of “the Ninth Street Church” and its growth over the early decades. In that history there were many photos, along with lists of the earliest members. The original member list for what was then the Armenian Presbyterian Church in 1906 included 3 Essegians out of the total 46 members. They were Hadji Essegian, Boghos Essegian and Margrit Essegian. What surprised me about the list was that it did not contain my grandfather, Mardiros. I knew my grandmother didn’t arrive until 1907 or 1908, depending on which document I looked at. But my grandfather arrived in 1895 and settle in Troy with other Essegians. So why was he not on that list? And he appeared in a photo of the church elders when they built “the Ninth St Church” beginning in 1914.
I’ve learned a lot about Armenians’ Christianity in the past few years that I didn’t know at that first read of the history. A common practice among Armenian men in the old country was to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And those who did so, were called Hadji. My grandfather was the Hadji in that original list.
I never met my grandfather. He and my grandmother both died long before I was born. But just as many others do ancestry searches to learn about their past and celebrate the ancestors they come to know, so I felt an increasing connection with my grandfather as I learned more about him from the church history and from a cousin who recalled him surprisingly clearly. I loved the picture in the church history booklet and tried to make a copy suitable for framing. But it was too old—faded and frayed. I finally gave up.
Then a few weeks ago one of the men I’ve been working with through the church sale process and for organizing the closure service called me about a photo that was found in the church. It was tucked away somewhere, and the new owner contacted him to see if we wanted it saved. He in turn contacted me, because the only name he recognized on the list of those in the photo was my grandfather. Turned out it was a preserved, framed version of the photo in the church history! The question became should it go to the Armenian Missionary Association (because it’s apparently quite valuable) or to me. I had a chat with the Executive Director of the AMAA and said if I could have it for my lifetime, I’d ensure that it went to the AMAA after that. He agreed!
So now I have a “bookends” set of photos about the church: the photo taken at the closure service, and this precious miracle that appeared after I’d given up on having a set of photos of the beginning and ending of the United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church.