THE CARAGATAS OF CASTELU & CANADA
THE CARAGATA FAMILY is believed to have originated in the eastern foothills of the Transylvanian Alps near the town of Rimnicu Sarat, situated about one hundred miles northeast of Bucharest. Family tradition has it that the first Caragata was a Roman soldier stationed in the eastern province of Dacia some 1,800 years ago. Roman Dacia was to become the precursor and foundation of what eventually emerged as the nation of Romania.
STEFAN CARAGATA, the earliest ancestor whose identity is known to us, was born on a farm near the Carpathian foothills town of Rimnicu Sarat circa 1820 in the old Romanian province of Muntenia. One family story has it that Caragata may mean “noisy blackbird” in Romanian. Another family story claims that our original family surname had been ONCEA and that either Stefan or his father had changed his surname from Oncea to Caragata since he had come to be known in his neighbourhood by his feathered nickname, thus inferring that he was considered to be a rather loquacious individual!
On his foothills farm, Stefan Caragata raised sheep, cattle and horses. Nothing unfortunately is known of his wife, but we do know that his only known son, Tudor Caragata, was born there circa 1855. Tudor Caragata apparently did not have any brothers; however it is quite possible that his father did. Family tradition insists that all the Caragatas in Romania originally sprang from the same progenitor, as suggested by the rarity of the name. It is known that at least one other Caragata family was residing in Bucharest in the 1930s and ‘40s, and recently arrived Romanian immigrants in Toronto have confirmed that they have definitely heard of the name Caragata back home. There are about sixty listings for Caragata in the on-line white pages phone book for Romania, population approximately 22 million.
Among Tudor Caragata’s friends and neighbours were the families of Oprica, Punga and Chiro, and just ten miles east near Ciorasti, lived the Adamaches, Mirceas, Oncescus and Alexandrus. Circa 1877, Tudor Caragata married Christina Oprica, daughter of a neighbouring farm couple, Radu and Maria Oprica. In the following year, Tudor’s and Christina’s first child, a daughter, Dumitra, was born unto them, followed by a second daughter, Vasilka, in 1880. Christina gave birth to hers and Tudor’s elder son, Stefan Marin Caragata, in October 1881. Although named after his paternal grandfather, Stefan was known by his middle name of Marin. Over the next few years, two more daughters, Stefana and Marioara, were added to the growing Caragata Family.
Romania had emerged as a nation in 1857 with the union of the two Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia. During the next twenty years, the movement toward independence accelerated, and Romania finally freed itself from the yoke of Turkish rule in 1878, with help from Russia. The Czar’s assistance came with strings attached, and as a result, Romania was obliged to cede its northeastern province of Bessarabia to Russia, while being compensated for the loss by being rewarded with the Black Sea province of Dobrogea taken from Bulgaria.
Dobrogea was a fertile farming area inhabited by a mixed population of Romanians, Bulgarians and Turks. After Romania annexed Dobrogea, many of its Turkish and Bulgarian residents began to feel uncomfortable living under Romanian rule and ultimately abandoned their farms and houses and left for Turkey and Bulgaria. Therefore, a considerable acreage of fertile farm land became available in Dobrogea. The Romanian government offered to sell much of the vacated land, and the resulting real estate bonanza soon attracted thousands of settlers from across the country. Tudor and Christina Caragata joined this migration to the south and purchased a farm in Dobrogea circa 1886. They settled at the farming village of Castelu, located near the town of Medgidia, some twenty-five miles inland from the Black Sea port of Constanta. Many of their northern neighbours and relatives also made the move to Dobrogea, including the Opricas, Pungas and Chiros. In 1893, the Caragata Family became complete with the birth of a second son, Chirita Gheorghe Caragata, known by his middle name of Gheorghe.
Tudor and Christina Caragata and their family of six had just gotten comfortably settled into their Castelu farm when Tudor died suddenly in 1897 at the age of forty-two, of Von Willibrand’s disease, a blood condition somewhat akin to haemophilia. His elder son Marin, aged fourteen, was then obliged to leave school and take over the operation of the family farm. Christina was left to raise her two year old son Gheorghe on her own; but she wasn’t entirely without help since her eldest daughters, Dumitra and Vasilka, had become young women by then. Fortunately, Christina’s mother, Maria Oprica, lived just around the corner with her son, Voikila Oprica. It is also possible that Maria’s husband may still have been living at that time.
The Caragatas and Adamaches had known each other back in their old homes up near Rimnicu Sarat and Ciorasti. In 1882 at Ciorasti, Iamandei Adamache [son of Harnit Adamache] had married his sweetheart, Miss Ana Mircea, daughter of a neighbouring farmer, Dumitru Mircea and his wife, Maria Stefan. Within a few years of their marriage, Iamandei and Ana made the decision to head south and join in the Dobrogean land rush. They purchased land at Ducuzulu, a farming community located just a few miles north of Castelu and Medgidia. Iamandei and Ana had always wanted to own a vineyard, and now they were finally able to cultivate their own grapes on their new farm at Ducuzulu, now known as Cuza Voda, which lies near the heart of Romania’s wine country, famous for its Murfatlar grapes.
Since the Caragatas and Adamaches had become neighbours once again, it wasn’t too surprising that young Marin Caragata met and fell in love with Miss Dumitra Adamache, eldest daughter of Iamandei and Ana Adamache. Presumably having been granted Iamandei’s permission and blessing, Marin Caragata was married to Dumitra Adamache at the local Orthodox Church on March the 5th, 1903. Now a married man, Marin was given ownership of the Caragata family farm. His mother Christina continued living there after his marriage, as did his younger brother George.
The Caragata farm produced barley, corn and wheat, along with abundant fruits such as pears, plums, peaches, apricots, figs, grapes and loganberries. Marin and George also kept livestock - dairy cattle, hogs, and most important of all, horses. The earlier Caragatas had always loved their horses, and that tradition was maintained by their descendants down in Castelu.
By the turn of the Century, Marin’s and George’s eldest sisters, Dumitra and Vasilka, had both married and were living right there in Castelu with their husbands and children: Dumitra to Ion Micu, and Vasilka, to Marin Ulmeanu. The youngest Caragata sisters, Stefana and Mariora, also eventually tied the knot: Stefana married Alexandru Nicola, of Castelu, and Marioara married Gheorghe Ghe Girip, of Murfatlar, about ten miles south of Castelu.
Marin and Dumitra, known to her family and friends as Dainie, celebrated the birth of their eldest child Ana, in February of 1905. During October 1906, Stefana was born, followed in 1909 by a son Josef who died in infancy that same year. Ana, known years later as Mrs Annie Nicholson, of Calgary, recalled her life as a young girl back in Romania. Once a year, the entire family would climb aboard their oxen-powered wagon and set out on a journey that would eventually take them to the annual agricultural fair held in the capital city of Bucuresti, some one hundred miles to the west. Since the Caragatas were small landowners, they were therefore able to afford to partake of, in at least a small degree, what was then considered to be the luxury of travel and vacation.
Education was considered to be of great importance by the Caragata Family, and had Tudor lived, his son Marin would certainly have completed his secondary schooling, an achievement still somewhat rare one hundred years ago in the Balkans where illiteracy was still the norm. Some of Marin’s nephews in Romania did realize the family’s academic ambitions and went on to attend university in Bucuresti.
Whenever her parents were busy working in the fields, Ana [Annie to us] would be left in the care of her Grandmother Christina, who was a small reserved woman with straight dark hair, somewhat resembling her grand-daughter Stefana - Fanny Nicholson of Regina. Christina served as the village midwife and as such, would occasionally be called away. Whenever that happened, she would take her grand-daughter Annie over to her mother’s place. Annie therefore got to know her Great-grandmother, Maria Oprica, a tall fair woman, with blue eyes and thick white hair, said to resemble her great-great-grandson, Leonard Caragata. Although a great-grandmother and far past today’s normal retirement age, Maria Oprica was no idler, employed as she was as the village mortician. Steady work to be sure! For funerals, Maria would prepare special twisted rolls for the solemn feasts that followed.
The turbulent Balkan cauldron began to stew again in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Our foothills ancestors who had made new homes down near the Black Sea, found their lives becoming increasingly unsettled by the deteriorating political climate. Fortunately, word soon reached Castelu and Ducuzulu that Canada’s Prairie lands were welcoming pioneers, and before long, the village elders made the decision to leave Romania and seek a better life in the New World. Amongst those who prepared to leave for Canada were Iamandei and Ana Adamache and all their children save their two eldest, Christache and Dumitra and their spouses and children. No member of the Caragata family elected to leave their native land at that time.
In February of 1907, the Adamaches and several other local families loaded up their wagons and headed north to the Transylvanian city of Brasov, where they caught the train which would take them to the North Sea port of Hamburg, Germany. En route an epidemic of measles broke out and by the time the train reached its destination, several children had become deathly ill, including the Adamaches’ surviving twin son Stefan who succumbed to the disease and died there at Hamburg at the tender age of four. Having endured a two week quarantine, the Adamaches and other affected families were finally able to book passage on another ship whose destination was New York City. Arriving there in March 1907, they then took a train north to Montreal where they transferred to a westbound train that would take them to their eventual destination of Regina, Saskatchewan.
Upon their arrival in Regina, the Adamaches were finally able to reunite with the other Dobrogean families who had left Hamburg before them. With an interpreter and a delegation of four men, Iamandei Adamache walked one hundred miles south, past Assiniboia and Limerick, to Lakenheath, where they found available fertile lands on the north shore of Twelve Mile Lake. They returned to Regina and came back with their families and possessions to claim their homesteads. Within a few years, houses were built, the virgin soil plowed and crops planted, and an Orthodox Church raised by the faithful.
Iamandei wisely reserved homesteads for the two missing members of his family still back in Romania. Four years passed, and finally in the Spring of 1911, his family became complete again with the arrival in Canada of his two eldest children. Iamandei and Ana were joyfully reunited with their son Christache [accompanied by his wife Tudora and their daughters Fanny and Lena] and their daughter Dumitra [accompanied by her husband Marin Caragata and their daughters Ana, Stefana and baby Maria]. Gheorghe Caragata came as Dumitra’s and Marin’s son, rather than as his brother, so as to avoid entry problems with Canadian immigration. Unfortunately, none of Marin’s and Gheorghe’s four sisters and their husbands elected to come with them to Canada.
Fortunately, two of their Oprica cousins did come over with them, namely Dumitru Oprica and his sister Rada, along with her husband, Anton Punga and their children, Mary and Radu. The newcomers all homesteaded in the same vicinity, thirteen miles south of Twelve Mile Lake and just a few miles east of Wood Mountain. The Pungas homesteaded three miles northeast of Wood Mountain, opposite the Chiros who had arrived in 1907, the Opricas, a few miles east of the Pungas, and the Caragatas, two miles south of the Pungas, on lands bordering the hills called “The Bench.”
Living first in a mud hut with a thatched straw roof and dirt floor, the Caragatas struggled to survive. In a few years, they built a larger adobe house with attached sheds and storage areas. Gheorghe Caragata, hereafter known as George, soon obtained his own homestead and moved to a location up on the hills just to the north of his brother’s lands. In 1916, George married Alexandra, daughter of Andrei and Maria Chiro, and by 1918, the young couple had moved to a larger farm two miles northwest of the Marin Caragata homestead. For many years, George and Alexandra remained childless. Finally, in 1925, Sandra [Alexandra] gave birth to a son John who died soon thereafter. Two years later their son Nicholas was born. Fortunately, he survived and was followed by Helen, George and a second John. Always good-natured and entertaining, George and his wife retired to Moose Jaw where he passed away in 1969. His widow, Sandra, survived him by several years and until her death circa 1988, continued to reside in Moose Jaw, close to her daughter Helen Bachiu and family.
Marin and Dumitra Caragata and their three daughters had barely completed their first year of life in Canada when the first Canadian-born Caragata made his arrival on the earthly plane. Andrew Caragata was born at Wood Mountain in June 1912, followed two years later by Tudor [Theodore], and at two year intervals thereafter, William, John and Nicholas. In 1922, Dumitra gave birth to twins, Marie and Stefan, both of whom, sad to say, lived but a few months each. During the following year of 1923, Marin completed the construction of a solid two storey frame house he had built for his family just a ways north of their old homestead. What a welcome move it was for such a large family!
Two more additions were to make the Caragata Family complete - George in 1924, a youth of great promise whose untimely death was deeply mourned by the family in 1943, and Steve, the Benjamin of the family, who wasn’t born until 1929. Marin and Dumitra Caragata retired to Regina in the late 1940s, where they were able to enjoy their golden years tending their garden and reminiscing of pioneer days and of the old country while visiting with their many friends and relatives there. Marin departed this life in 1960 and Dumitra in 1965. Both are buried in Regina’s Riverside Cemetery.
A seed was transplanted from the Old World to the New. That seed took nourishment from Saskatchewan’s fertile soil, sprouted, ripened and matured under a benevolent prairie sun. The CARAGATAS OF CASTELU became the CARAGATAS OF CANADA!
compiled by Count Caragata
Toronto 1985; Revised 1999 & 2006