People forgotten to the pages of history

11 Jul

The other day, between one of my many emotional breakdowns via Dreamweaver, I went looking through my external hard drive, just to reminisce through the Good Ole Days. 2009. Good times.
Before I moved to DC, I called Waipio Gentry, Hawaii home. Waipio is a suburb of Waipahu, which is one of Honolulu’s many, many branches. All of Leeward Oahu is Honolulu, and I won’t be convinced otherwise. And I suppose I should knock this out-of-the-way too: no, I don’t hula; no, I don’t speak Hawaiian; no, I didn’t go to the beach every day–I actually really don’t like the beach; no, I did not ride my pet sea turtle to school every day; yes, I did go to school.

I went to an all girls’ Catholic high school, Sacred Hearts Academy, and one of my religion electives was called “Death and Dying.” I did not want to take the class, but the religion seminar class had filled up and it was high school, so you couldn’t just beg to get into a class–there was no wait list. When it was full, it was full. Begrudgingly, I bought the textbook, a new notebook and pen (which I promptly lost all of a week later) and settled in for a semester of learning the process of dying and the Church’s theology surrounding that.

Turns out, it was actually a pretty interesting class. The next year, my grandmother started to talk to relatives who had been dead for decades, and I was able to step in and tell my frantic relatives that it was completely normal. I was useful; sometimes it happens.

I’m digressing.

One of two requirements for the class was to visit a cemetery and help clean and maintain it. It was a class-wide event, held on a hot and stick May afternoon. The place was old; it had stopped accepting new bodies sometime around the late 20s. There, with our shovels and sponges, we set to clean the headstones of ordinary people–people whose names and existence have been lost to history.

There was nothing short of interesting and nothing short of heart-wrenching. Children, some no older than a few months, buried next to their parents. There were unmarked graves, the raised dirt above them the only indicator that a body rested beneath the surface. But–and this is the reason for this post–nothing was as…interesting (for want of a better word) as the headstone my friend Sharon found.

His name was Mikhail Jakovleff, and he was a Russian lieutenant who died in 1921.

Of course, as the resident Russophile, Sharon called me over as soon as she realized the words in front of her weren’t English. Although, then, I couldn’t read a lick of Cyrillic, and was too amazed by the fact that Guys, there’s pi in their alphabet. Why is their math in their alphabet?

Needless to say, I couldn’t reap too much information from the headstone alone.

The headstone is about as large as I am (5’6″) and marble. Whoever had buried this young man had come from a good heap of wealth. But there was a mystery presented to me, and to this day, I can’t shrug it off. What was he doing here? Was he Catholic? Who buried him? Was it his family? If so, where are they buried? If Misha wasn’t Catholic, were they? No, really, what was a Russian doing in Honolulu in 1921?

I proceeded to answer those questions as best I could with a budget of exactly 0 dollars. The registry from the cemetery listed his parents. Using Ancestry.com and a bunch of other lineage websites that I promptly chucked after their free trials ran out, I think I found a brother.

For some reason, I was too dumb to screen-cap anything, so all I have are my text notes, and there’s only a page of them:

– Michael Jacovleff could have very easily been coming to America via Bombay, India/Said, Egypt on the English ship the SS City of Marseilles.

– Came to Hawaii in 1920, months before he died

-One of the documents said he was in “detention” for some reason I can’t make out in New York

– Reasons for exclusion from NY ports: doctor diagnosed that the immigrant had a contagious disease that would endanger the public health or if a legal inspector thought the immigrant was likely to become a public charge or an illegal contract laborer

– Most likely health related?

-There is a good chance he is part Polish

-Leo Jacovleff’s [I couldn’t find much of “Mikhail Jacovleff, but I found plenty on Leo] mother’s maiden name is “Bodisco/Bodisko.”  This makes him Mikhail’s older brother by a year or two.  He too moved to Hawaii right around the 1920s too.  He has two girls, Helen and Irene Jacovleff.

– Leo, Vera, Helen and Irene Jacovleff lived in Hawaii in 1920

– There was a chapel on grounds during 1920s

– He is Roman Catholic [I don’t remember how I found that out, but it’s in my notes]

-His name on the gravestone is “Mischenka.” Names that end in -enka is a sign of very close familial or platonic relationships.

As a writer– as a person there was nothing more I wanted to do that summer than to write his story. I don’t feel comfortable making up stories about real people, and I’m not even sure where this young gentleman was raised. My search, based on a budget of again, 0 dollars and about four months, ended.

Seeing that I couldn’t do anything else, I continued to visit his gravesite. I’d brush off some dirt and grime; I’d always leave a flower–a carnation, in the Hawaiian tradition. Sometimes I told him about my day, about who I was and who I wanted to be. Sometimes it felt strange, to talk and to have no one respond. Other times, it was nice.

I promised him once that I would find out the rest of his story, write it and share it with the world. I would really like to uphold that promise, but I don’t think I’ll be able to. Not in the way I had intended. Not with zero money and zero time and zero access to the documents that might at least tell me where he was born.

So, I suppose, for now, a simple blog post will have to do.

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