Discovering family through research

In February 2007, my research was highlighted in OSU’s Terra magazine.  Of course, I made sure that my mom had a copy.  As she looked over the article, she read the caption for the Edward Curtis photograph gracing the cover of the magazine.  “Nuktaya?”, she asked, “There wasn’t anyone on the island named Nuktaya.  I wonder if they meant, ‘Muktoyuk’, my father?”

This image of Deanna Kingston's maternal grandfather appeared on the cover of Terra magazine.

This image of Deanna Kingston's maternal grandfather appeared on the cover of Terra magazine.

The next month, we went to Fairbanks to attend the Alaska Anthropology Association annual meeting.  There, we met with other King Island Inupiat Eskimo elders and showed them the photograph. They confirmed that it was indeed her father, taken 16 years before my mother was born.  By pure chance, the editors of Terra magazine decided to use a photograph of someone who was my relative!

This was not the first time I have seen a photograph of my grandfather in print.  In 1992, when I was an intern at the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian Institution, I went to the Natural History Museum’s gift shop.  I browsed through the books in the Arctic section and saw one on kayaks and canoes.  I pulled it off the shelf and read the back cover.  “Cool,” I thought, “there’s an article on King Island kayaks.”  So, I opened it to a random page and saw a photograph on the left-hand side.  There, an elderly Eskimo man was holding up a paddle.  I read the caption, “Stanislaus Muktoyuk demonstrates the finishing position for rolling.”  It was my grandfather.

A year later, I came back to the Arctic Studies Center and the Human Studies Film Archives at the Smithsonian to do research on the Bernard Hubbard, S.J., film.  Father Hubbard, the “Glacier Priest”, spent a year on King Island from 1937-38, and shot about 20 hours of film there in addition to taking between 2,000 and 4,000 photographs.  My Uncle Alex came out for a week to view the film.  I was thrilled to hear him say things like, “Oh, there’s my mom, Agiavinaq.  There’s my father.  There’s my older brother, Edward.  There’s your namesake, Paniataaq”, etc.  Then, my advisor, Stephen Loring, took us to museum storage to look at items from King Island.  As Stephen opened one drawer, my uncle pointed to a cribbage board made of walrus ivory and asked, “Is that from King Island?”  Stephen pulled the tag out from under the cribbage board and said, “Yes, it is.  How did you know?”  Uncle Alex said, “Well, I recognized the way the carver drew the seal on the ice floe.  As far as I know, my dad was the only person to make them that way!”

These have not been isolated incidents.  There’s the time my friend Karen told me about a King Island story she found in Knud Rasmussen’s report of the Fifth Thule Expedition.  The story was about the King Island Messenger Feast/Wolf Dance, which became the subject of my dissertation.  Rasmussen recorded the story from “Arnasungak from King Island.”  Today, we spell this name “Agnazungaq” and after consulting with elders, we decided that the story was told to Rasmussen by my great-grandfather, my mother’s mother’s father.  I subsequently heard the story from Lucy Koyuk, my mother’s first cousin, who was also grand-daughter to Agnazungaq.

I feel very fortunate – I have always enjoyed learning about other people and cultures, but it seems that sometimes, my research falls literally right into my lap.  I’ve seen King Island masks at the New Bedford Whaling Museum and at the Field Museum in Chicago.  There’s a King Island kayak at the National Museum of the American Indian.  I know the sisters of Charles Kukuluk, whose ivory carving of an owl or some other bird is on display at the British Museum in London.  Rie Munoz, the famous Alaskan painter and artist, was a school teacher on King Island from 1951-52.  Her ex-husband, Juan, wrote an article in National Geographic that featured King Island (“The Cliff Dwellers of Bering Strait”) in January 1954.  My mom and uncles Gabriel and Alex were in the photographs of that article.  I’ve met Phil and Ellen Viereck, other schoolteachers on King Island from 1949-51, who wrote and illustrated a children’s book entitled “Eskimo Island”.  Ellen once gave me and my uncle original drawings from the school children there.  Of the set of about 100 drawings and stories, there were 13 created by my mom.  How many people literally find documents and images created by their family members as they conduct research?

This is why I love my job.  I get paid for stuff like this!

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