My husband’s Auntie Dulcie was a dedicated family historian. No one joined dots like she did. Whenever we visited her, she would proudly lay before us yet another branch of the Walker family that she had mapped out, along with its suitable scandals (without which no family history would be worth recording). She loved to solve a good mystery and her success rate was up there with Sherlock Holmes.
Until John Brown.
This inconsiderately-named relative remained Auntie Dulcie’s focal point for many years. She had living faith in the song “You’ll get it right if you keep on trying” and, from her tiny fibro home in which she and Uncle Neville had raised four children, she would regularly assert that she was on the verge of discovering John Brown. When she died, aged 88, she was still hard at it and had left a trail of discarded John Browns behind her, not one of which was the man she sought.
Auntie Dulcie taught me never to give up. Her determination fuelled my 30 year odyssey to find my own family name; but, of course, Mikatović scatters far more historical clues than Brown.
The first was this: ‘It was sometimes spelled with a “k”,’ said my birth mother, Silvana, who herself spelled it Micatovich like the Latin in the church books.
The second was as brief as the first: ‘It meant ‘son of Michael’. (“Ovich” or “Ović” is standard Slavic for “son of”.) Silvana said that the name Micatovich was ‘a very important name' in her village of Tar (or Torre) in Istria.
But ‘it’s got to be Jewish’, declared my neighbour, an expert in ancient languages and etymologist par excellence. ‘From Micah or Michael, meaning “who is like God?”’
For years this is what I thought. I also thought it was rather cool to be related to Abraham.
The “T”, however, was a big hiccough. I really had no clue how it had got there until my helpful neighbour suggested that in Mediaeval times Jews weren’t allowed to own land, so the name may have been corrupted (hence the T) in order to disguise its Hebrew origins. I had heard of this practice before and, in fact, my Dad, as principal of two Australian high schools with big Jewish populations, told me that many Jews who came out after the war changed their entire names to hopeful things, such as Mr Green or Mr Gold.
I even wrote a story called “Zuanne Micatovich and the Price of Land” to illustrate my conjecture.
A restlessness remained, however. Perhaps it’s my natural urge to research, or a feeling that all was not as simply explained as a persecuted people, or even a voice from the past urging me to connect with my relatives – calling to me from across the centuries.
So, I started to research the “T”.
Silvana had also said that the surname Mikatović was the name of an island off the far south coast of Dalmatia near Albania, but Dalmatia has 1246 islands and not one of them was called Mikatović. I checked the Serbian dictionary, likewise the Croatian, which is virtually the same. Nothing. I scouted around in various other languages from that part of the world. Still no joy. But it was well known in academic circles that the population in the vicinity of Tar had moved from the south, north to Istria in the sixteenth century.
I was still looking for an island.
Eventually I found a small island in the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro called ‘The Island of Flowers’ or Prevlaka. Wikipedia, being rather more helpful on this occasion than usual, informed me that in Mediaeval times Prevlaka was known as St Michael’s Island. A Serbian Orthodox monastery dedicated to the archangel Michael was built there. At the end of the fifteenth century, the Venetians destroyed it. During the course of the sixteenth century the Venetians loaded their ships with families from these southern possessions to begin a new life in Istria. This was because the Istrian towns had been decimated by plague and war. It was also connected with the threat posed by the Ottoman Turks to Venice’s Empire along the Dalmatian hinterland.
At last I was getting somewhere, but I still couldn’t find the T.
Then in 2019 my husband’s Greek Australian nephew came to live with us. One day during his time in Australia I googled Serbian-Orthodox-church-St-Michael and came up with an icon. It’s a typical orthodox icon of St Michael found in Orthodox churches from Serbia to Russia, to America and Australia, but the words are in the original Greek despite the church being Serbian.
Two of the words on the icon were: "Michael Taxiarhis", where Michael is in an abbreviated form. This is where my nephew provided the vital clue. “Taxiarhon” is Greek and means Brigadier General, Knight or General.
Therefore, we have: MIXA + T + ovich/ović = Micatovich/Mikatović meaning Son of General Michael, the archangel, general of the heavenly armies, in the Bible Revelation 12:7. Or, as we might say today, “Son of Saint Michael.”
It took me 30 years to discover that Mikatović meant “son of Saint Michael”, but it’s a stunning example of oral history, and I would like to dedicate this post to Auntie Dulcie who taught me the value of persistence.