Background

What led to the creation of this documentary film?

A message from project director Vicki Albu

This project is the result of tremendous collaborations between people who are passionate about remembering and preserving an important piece of Romanian-American history which happened to take place in Minnesota. Here is how the idea came about.

I have been researching my family history since the 1980s, and my Romanian  great-grandfather was always the most challenging ancestor to track down. In 1911 he immigrated to South Saint Paul, Minnesota from a town called Sannicolau Mare, which was called Nagy Szent Miklos when it was part of Hungary. Then I married another Romanian, the grandson of a Romanian immigrant in 1906 from Nagy Torak or Toracul Mare, which is now in Serbia. This gave me more fodder for my genealogical research.

I quickly learned that tracing Romanian roots is no easy task. For one thing, the early immigrants were surprisingly mobile. As I found my Romanian-American subjects in census and other historical records in various industrial cities across the Midwest, I realized that they often moved long distances to be near family members or relatives. It became apparent that most of the early Romanian immigrants who finally settled in Saint Paul (which is in Ramsey County) and South Saint Paul (in Dakota County), Minnesota originated from the same geographical areas in the “old country,” especially the regions called Banat (which spans parts of present-day Romania and Serbia) and Transylvania.  I began to identify relationships among many of these families, and developed a database to try to keep them all straight.

Another reason why researching Romanian ancestors is difficult is that most records from present-day Romania are not available on microfilm through the Family History Library or in digital form through websites like Ancestry.com. The advent of the Internet made collaborating with other researchers much easier. By coincidence I met Dorrene Hern, another key project member, online; but the funny thing is that we live only a few miles apart. Together we founded the Romanian Genealogy Society in 2011, hoping to help other people who are puzzled by Romanian genealogy challenges.

Meanwhile, I had long been thinking about an oral history project to document stories that I feared were being lost. Regretfully, I thought about it for too long until almost all of the original immigrants from the 1900-1920s major immigration wave had passed away. Through a growing involvement with the Heritage Organization of Romanian-Americans in Minnesota (HORA) and Romanian Genealogy Society, and through the support of local historical societies, we began to make a plan for an oral history project that would focus on the children and grandchildren of the original immigrant families. Using obituary research and connections through HORA and the Romanian-American community in Minnesota, we identified 10 people who had immediate connections to the South Saint Paul-Saint Paul community and who were willing to be interviewed on camera. We also made digital scans of old family photographs.

After HORA obtained a Minnesota Legacy Grant and the project team was trained in oral history methodology, we interviewed ten individuals in 2013. The interviews were professionally filmed by Town Square Television, the local community cable TV outlet in northern Dakota County. The unedited interviews and print transcripts are housed at Dakota County Historical Society‘s Lawshe Museum in South Saint Paul, Minnesota, where they may be accessed by researchers.

In 2014, HORA secured a second Legacy Grant that allowed us to create a professional quality documentary film using the “raw footage” interviews that were conducted in 2013. Don Shelby agreed to record the narration. Production services were provided by Town Square TV and the amazing Mark DeJoy, who passed away shortly after the film premiered. The resulting 1-hour documentary film was completed in September 2014. Refer to other pages on this site for information about the world premiere showing and how to obtain a copy of the DVD.

This seems very long, but in reality it is a very compact explanation of the genesis of a project which I believe will fill a gap in the historical record on Romanian immigration. I look forward to your comments and questions at romanianimmigration@gmail.com.

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