A LOOK BACK IN HISTORY:
|By CIRI Historian AJ McClanahan
The project, which has taken on a life of its own, is a labor of love for Pilkinton. She started it about 30 years ago when she realized there were so many cousins from her mother's siblings that it was a challenge to remember all their names.
Pilkinton was born Nov. 10, 1921, in the Interior village of Rampart, the daughter of Florence Pitka Knox and Charles V. Knox. Pilkinton is the eldest of seven children. Her mother's parents were Paul and Sarah Pitka. They had eight children who survived to adulthood, including the girls, Florence (Hazel's mother), Mary, Lena and Madeline; and boys, Timothy, Albert, Charley and Richard.
Pilkinton's research goes back only to her grandparents because tracking their ancestors has so far proved to be difficult. The parents of her maternal grandparents were born when the Russians controlled parts of Alaska, and researching those records is difficult, she said. Her grandfather's last name was Russian, Pavlof or Pavlov. Her grandfather later changed his name to Pitka, and one of his brothers changed his to John Minook. Both of her grandparents were fluent in Russian, she said.
Pilkinton said her parents, who were married in Rampart in 1920, lived there until her sister Alice was born in 1923. When she was six weeks old, they moved to Ruby by dog team in March and stayed there on and off until World War II. "They moved a lot because of trapping and fishing," she said. "The family depended on subsistence."
Pilkinton said that in the days before World War II in Alaska, villages often had a Territorial School for non-Natives and a Bureau of Indian Affairs School for Alaska Natives. In Ruby, which had a total population at the time of about 300 people, however, there was only a Territorial School attended by all the children of the village.
"The Territorial School was wonderful," she said, noting that the entire school had 21 students, including four non-Natives. She didn't recall much discrimination from those days, but said she was aware that Native women who married non-Native men were barred from membership in some organizations in other parts of the state.
Pilkinton recalled that Ruby was a close-knit community. There were dances every Saturday evening at the community hall, attended by all, from the youngest to the oldest in the village. "Even the children went," she said.
School only went to the eighth grade, and those who wanted to further their education went to high school in Eklutna, she said. Pilkinton could not attend because she had had rheumatic fever and had been left with a heart murmur.
Pilkinton said her genealogy work is based on oral history from family members and that she has little written documentation to back up her research. She said most early historical books about Alaska rarely identified Alaska Natives beyond stating a photo showed "one Indian or two Eskimos." Adding to the difficulty in tracking down information is the fact that people did change their names, she said, as with her grandparents' generation.
"Right now it's just a family document," she said of her family tree. But she noted that she is one of the charter members of the Skagit Genealogical Society of Mt. Vernon, Wash., and continues to seek further information on her family's background.
Pilkinton is pleased that the younger generation of her nieces and nephews has taken a great interest in learning about their family background. She's been told that one relative provided a copy of the family tree to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum, which has displayed it.
"I'm glad to see the younger generation getting interested," she said. "Knowing some of the history of their own ancestors makes them more interested in history around the world."