Just when I think that no resource is available to help me fill in the details of the lives of Armenians who settled in Troy in the 1890’s and early 20th century, another miracle (or two) comes along.
I’m driven to paint an accurate picture of this period in my historical fiction. I can use stories people have told me about their own family members’ early experiences, including what I’ve learned about my grandfather. But I need more to flesh it out. What was the Armenian community in Troy like during this period? How did they live? Were there multiple separate groups? How did they make a living? How did they fulfill their spiritual needs? How did they interact and integrate with the community as a whole?
I had found one Troy Record article from 1913 that talked about the challenges the Armenians had fitting in – language barriers, education views, working with others in the community. The religious leaders met with the city officials to discuss ways to improve integration. But it only went so far.
Then, by total coincidence, my friend Roger (who has been immensely helpful to me on this journey) told me about Torn Between Two Lands. It was an old book, out of print, hard to find, and when I did find it, it was pretty expensive. I debated spending the money. What if it wasn’t helpful? What if it focused on some of the larger Armenian communities in the time frame of my novel? Did I really want to take more time away from writing to read yet another book? I decided to think about it for a while. But then I found myself unable to fall asleep at night, debating with myself about whether the book would help me. Roger has never steered me wrong, and certainly knew more about Armenian history than I do.
I went for it! It took almost three weeks to arrive. But once I had it in my hands, I couldn’t put it down. Not only did it provide golden nuggets about all of the major Armenian communities in America in that era, it also took me back to “the old country” to help me better understand what drove the wave of Armenians to America – what was going on in their homeland throughout the thirty or so years of the 1890’s through World War I, and even going back to the earliest known Armenian to settle in America in the first half of the 19th century. The insights it provided into what drove the people who came to America, and specifically to Troy, NY, were pure gold. The book even addressed the development of the Armenians’ religious communities: how and when they began, when the churches (Apostolic and Protestant) were incorporated, the forces behind choices the religious communities made, how and when they built their first church structures.
Although my novel focuses on the Protestant Armenian community in Troy, you can’t tell the story of Troy’s Armenians without including those who were part of the Apostolic church. After reading something in the book that conflicted with the website of St. Peters, the one of two local Armenian Apostolic churches, I contacted the office of the church for additional information. Their very helpful priest explained that the date on the website was when the church was incorporated, but the physical structure came later. That made sense, since that was what happened with the Protestant Church – the members met for services in homes and borrowed spaces until the first church was built. The priest also generously offered me additional resources, which I will be picking up this week.
Finding this latest resource, Torn Between Two Lands, was just a continuation of the series of little miracles that have driven me on this journey. The writing has begun at last, but I have a feeling the research and learning will continue.