The more this blog is shared, the more I get asked “who’s are you?” … and “where are you from?”
So, I thought I’d share a little of my story here.
My name is Qristina Žeželje Zavackova Cummings I am Lotfitka and Servika. I can trace my family to Bardejov, Slovakia and Jūrmala, Latvia. My father’s family were Žeželj and Mucinieks who travelled out of Latvia through France and into the Southern UK, where they changed their name from Mucinieks to the anglicized Cooper.
I am also from the East Slovak families of Petikova and Zavackova, who also travelled west to escape growing prejudice in Europe and found themselves in the UK.
My Grandmother Babka and her sister Lemija were more commonly known as Doll and Leah. They had several brothers and sisters – Dinah, Elias, Zorana, Džordže (George), and Anelja (Annie). My grandfather is harder to trace – most of his family don’t have birth certificates and all have the same surname (his mother had the same name as his father before they got married. Except that my family changed theirs from Muciniek so I discount claims of close-relatives marrying).
Some time before I was born they settled in the North of England in a small town. There were many other Romani/Romany/Romanichal/Pavee families already there (Weatheritt, Burnett, Buckland, Lovell, Faa, Smith, and Boswells to name a few). The council didn’t really welcome “Gypsies” and forced families to settle. A lot of the town consisted of “council housing” where our families lived.
My mother’s parents weren’t so open with their heritage, though they’re also Czech or Slovak Romani who came by way of Scotland. My grandfather, Robert had several brothers and sisters – Lindis, Cicely, Ina, and Marja – and my grandmother was one of seven children – Willim, Vanessa, Elenor, Christia, Annya, and Matthew. They didn’t really talk about their heritage though. Just what they did – for example, my grandmother was scrubbing floors for a “rich” family by age 9 and my grandfather fought in the army in WWII. They were longer settled than my father’s family.
Neither side of my family were highly educated. My father’s side were largely illiterate, even my father and his brothers didn’t finish beyond about age 11. Both my grandfathers fought in WWII and learned some things then. It was hard for them, because a lot of our European relatives were sent to camps and many died. They never really talked about it at all, especially my grandmother who lost many family members.
Our family was quite large and mostly lived in the same town. A couple of relatives still travelled, but mostly we were settled. In the summer we’d go visit those relatives in different places, or we’d go travelling fruit picking. Generally, we picked peas and strawberries for commercial farmers, and then we picked wild mushrooms, raspberries, blackberries, elderflower/berries, beans, rosehips, and sloes for ourselves. When I was 10 years old, we made a pilgrimage to Saintes Maries de la Mer in the south of France. It is definitely something that I will never forget. I remember big parties and dancing all the time.
There were some other, not so happy things about my childhood. The times my grandparents or other relatives were evicted; the time my uncle was killed because he was a “Gypsy”; the alcoholism that ran in our family; the times I was beaten up because of it or asked to leave a shop or accused of stealing.
I don’t like to think about those things though. I like to remember the happy times and all the stories and songs and togetherness.
So, this is the first installment of my story. I’ll write more next time~ Let me know if there’s anything you’re particularly interested in!!