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This website was created to help me make sense of my family history and to record it. It's also here in the hope that I might make contact with various far-flung and distant branches of my ancestors and their families so we can share information.
I got interested in family history when my mother inherited her grandmother's childhood postcard collection - it was full of pictures and names we didn't know, and we decided to research it together. Sadly, my mum fell ill and died before we could fulfil that ambition, so a few years afterwards I dusted off the album and started researching it on my own.
When I started, in early 2000, the internet did not yet contain the vast wealth of searchable data it has now, and my research included many trips up to the Family Records Centre in Islington, looking through the huge birth, marriage and death indexes, or going upstairs to scroll through the miles of census microfilms. I also visited the National Archives a few times in order to leaf through the delicate piles of soldiers' records. My honeymoon, in 2002, probably involved a few too many visits to Scottish graveyards for my wife's liking!
The story I've uncovered - and am still uncovering - has been fascinating, more so than I could ever have imagined. Family history has given me a stronger sense of identity, helped me to understand how I came to be, where I ended up, and in some ways, who I am. It has given me a very real connection to history and to other people from all walks of life.
(From an article I wrote in 2008)
As you may have noticed, I have a fairly unusual name, and I'm asked the question about where it comes from on a regular basis, with most people postulating that it has Welsh origins due to the way it sounds (it's hasn't, though I probably do have a little Welsh ancestry back in the 1700s by way of some Pritchards).
My mum always told me that she liked the first half of 'Gareth', but not the second, and the second half of 'Darren', but not the first, so she put the two together to come up with Garen (this was 1969). Very recently my aunt told me a different story, that my mum scrambled the letters of her own name (Margaret Anne) and picked out five, producing Garen. Whichever story is true (I think the first) - she made the name up.
I like my name. It's got five letters to match my surname and has a pleasing stamp. Up until I got on the Internet, I thought it was pretty much unique, though someone told me early on that Elvis Presley's twin brother was called Garen (it turns out it was his second name and not the same spelling, Jesse Garon Presely. He was sadly still-born.)
When I did get on to the internet (in 1997) I found there were other Garens out there and I experienced something of the feeling that all Johns, Daves and Mikes must constantly have... that my name is shared. Most Garens the world over have an Armenian surname, and this does seem to be where its roots lie, although a number of more recent baby-name websites declare it as French, and that it comes from the word 'guard' (erm, which is garde). A friend of mine who recently had a baby, owned a mammoth book of 40,000 baby names, including Garen, of which it said it was English. I can't help but wonder if they got that from typing the name into Google and coming up with my website and looking at where I lived!
I do know of another Garen native to the British Isles. In the late 1990s I did some illustration work assisting comic artist Tony O'Donnell, and when he had a son around that time, he and his wife decided they liked the name Garen, so it became his too. He's not named "after me", as such (I've only actually met Tony once in person), but I feel honoured, all the same, that my name was the origin.
I have since done a little research into the first name Garen, and, after discarding the numerous mis-transcriptions of the name Caren, here are some stats: From 1837-2005 there were 46 Garen births registered in England, Wales and Scotland; the first was in 1952; there were 4 in the 50s, 8 in the 60s (including me), 12 in the 70s, 7 in the 80s and 11 in the 90s. 33 were in England, 11 in Wales, and 2 in Scotland; 10 of those belonged to people with a seemingly non-UK heritage (just going by surname), of which 5 were Armenian (the others Turkish, Arabian, Latin American, Punjabi and Hindu).
Garen is one of those names people never believe the first time they hear it, so I've always got the script ready to say "it's like Darren but with a G instead of a D", though sometimes I won't bother, and will endure being called Darren, Gary, Gareth or Geraint and on one amusing occasion, Garden. One chap I worked with for a few months even took to calling me Dave because my name just did not compute in his world. The most common mis-spelling is to give it two rs, and it is still sometimes mis-spelt by friends and even family. If I say my own name, Garen Ewing, too quickly, people tend to think my name is that of automobile-songster and pop-pilot, Gary Numan.
One popular use of the name Garen appears to be for fantasy characters in online fiction, as it lends itself to that random interlocking of syllable parts that I know so well from my role-playing game days when I did much the same thing (ah, Dorin Sharpesword, where are you now?) In fact, at the time of writing, the number one Google return is for Garen Muln, a human male Jedi master who "lived during the final decades of the Galactic Republic". Number two is for Garen Boyajian, a Canadian actor (with an Armenian surname) whose "dedication, drive and defiant pursuit of superstardom" I immediately support due to our invisible unusual-name bond (coincidentally, he also works to help raise awareness for Ewing's Sarcoma). As for me, I come in at number four, just after Tarot mistress, Nancy Garen (but I'm not counting the surname). I've seen one female Garen - Garen Thomas, an African-American children's editor and author - so we're in the same business.
Update: as of Sep 2013 I now come in at number seven, with all the first six (and several after) being for a character called Garen ("The Might of Demacia") from a game called League of Legends.
Despite being one of those names you'll never find on a name-key-ring display in a tacky gift shop, there are a couple of places called Garen. It's the name of a ghost-town to be found on Highway 61 south of Forest Lake, Minnesota, founded in the 1890s. What I find intriguing about this place is that it was born of flame (a cattle-train stop built to placate the local farmers who were the victims of fires started by sparks from passing trains) and it pretty much died by flame (when the old school building burnt down in the 1930s, leaving only a roadside tavern into the 1940s). Garen is also a small town just outside Lindern, Germany ('garen' means 'cook' in German, apparently).
So there you go... though the name has a Western Armenian heritage, in my case my mum just made it up in 1969. Well... you do keep asking!