In my effort to put together the pieces of my family history, I have thus far treaded a rather conventional research path. Up until quite recently my research has been primarily organic, comprised of sifting through century-old documents, travelling to remote villages or interviewing relatives. There is the added layer of complexity in my particular research project as I conduct my research in Bulgarian rather than in English. Of course, when you get into a different language you also delve into a different culture and system of keeping track of that information. My family tree is drawn by hand and split across two different notebooks, depending on which side of the family I am researching. I have only just begun to post a part of it onto Ancestry.com. My interview notes are also split and care is taken in keeping them organised and easily accessible on my travels and when I am carrying out research. Going to libraries and bookstores to fill in the gaps of my historical knowledge has been helpful but I have found only modest amounts of information and few images specifically dedicated to Bulgaria during the middle of the 20th century. The material I do find tends to be of a historical and factual nature as opposed to personal accounts and stories which would illuminate what it was like to live in Bulgaria during this time specifically, between the “Third Bulgarian State” and the onset of Communism. This lack of information is most likely not an accident as this was a watershed era in Bulgaria’s history; politically, economically and sociologically the country was turned on its head. Presenting me with yet another layer of complexity, gaining a hold of information from this period has proven relatively challenging.
I began to come off of my conventional research path on a recent trip back to Bulgaria when I discovered a website called “Lost Bulgaria” (www.lostbulgaria.com). Bulgarian National Television was conducting an interview with the site’s author and broadcasting it to an audience which, ironically, since 1989 and The Fall [of the Berlin Wall] has become preoccupied with its present and future, trying hard to forget its past. When I opened the website, I could hardly believe what I had found- thousands of online photographs, all organised in a meaningful way instantaneously providing me with a visual account of what life was once like in this country. While still nascent in the face of what remains to be documented, this website leads the way not only in honouring Bulgaria’s historical past but also in finally making that past accessible. In the absence of more traditional western resources, this website is a floodgate of information for those of us whose family histories originate in this part of the world. It is our answer to sliced bread.