The story of a community
My father George was born in Trieste [archive postcard views] but settled in London after he met my mother in 1963. The Murat family history is almost lost owing to the early death of both my Grandparents and uncle who I never met. While my father lived to the age of 63, I only developed an interest in matters genealogical when it was too late.
What little history has passed on to me from my aunt is that my Grandfather, Josef Murat was born in Bornova [archive views], where his family had been long-established. The origins of the surname are probably French, although their religion was Orthodox Christian. One ancestor had been mayor of Bornova. Another female ancestor was Scottish (or English), having the maiden name Mitchell.
Note: Thanks to the work done in translating Greek language documents from the family archive, it seems highly probable that the name Mitchell, or Mitsell, is derived from the Italian/Venetian ‘di Missael’.
My Great-grandfather Jean Murat was a doctor. His wife was called Christine (born Kosti, in 1869). They had two other children besides Josef; Kimon and Marie.
The Murats of Bornova. c1905?
Christine had a sister Despina who lived in Athens from at least 1916 to her last years.
Jean was in poor health when his son Kimon died in 1916 and passed away himself in 1918. Josef was working in Vienna at the time and he later settled in Trieste, perhaps because Trieste was the most convenient place to settle with his immediate family who were displaced from Bornova in 1922. Christine and his sister Marie (spinster) appear on a certificate of refugee status issued in Athens in 1922. They had left Smyrna for Athens, where they had relatives. Their visit was long enough to receive news [view letter] from their cousins who had left Smyrna for Beirut, and then they sailed to Trieste to be with Josef.
The cousin’s letter and an insurance certificate are among many Ottoman, Greek and French documents I have inherited which shed light on their life before Trieste. Christine and Marie had a shop in the Rue Franc in the centre of Smyrna and evidently knew many Levantine families. My father told me that as a child they were not allowed to speak about the past as Aunt Marie had been traumatised by the violence she had witnessed and was saddened by the loss of the life she had left behind. Hopefully the documents will bring more of their story to light.
Josef’s business involved regular travel to visit local agents and farmers in Turkey to buy crops, often before they were harvested. These were imported into a bonded warehouse in Trieste for distribution. He married Erminia in 1927 and raised three children; Janni, who died before I was born, my father George and my aunt Cristina.
Josef had the habit of bringing at least one of his sons with him on business voyages and one of my father’s earliest memories was being woken from his bunk and taken on deck to watch the sun-rise over Agia Sophia, dominating the Istanbul skyline.
From friends on this site I have been informed that the family house in Bornova, Smyrna is still standing and what is more it underwent recent restoration - views / further information in the book published by Evelyn L. Kalças:
I am not sure whether the house known in as the Murat House in Bornabat was lived in by any of my ancestors, although I’d assume any families of the same name in a small town like Bornabat are probably related. The house was built by an English family called Edwards in 1880 and was eventually sold to the Murat family. The list of Levantine Published Newspapers on this site shows an Anthony Edwards and a F. Murat both linked to the publication of the newspaper ‘Journal de Smyrna’. The oral history of my family doesn’t mention publishers, although it does make reference to a Murat holding the position of Podesta, or Mayor, of Bornova. Given the symbiotic lives of politicians and the press, it could be possible there was a long-standing relationship between the families, but this is just conjecture on my behalf. More likely I think, is that the story of the Murat Mayor of Bornova is in fact a conflation of an ancestor on my great-grandmother’s side of the family (nee Kosti), who was an elected representative of Greeks in Smyrna at the Athenian National Assembly of 1863 (research here courtesy of George Vassiadis). The oral history does make reference to the profession of acting though, including links to a theatre either in Athens (or perhaps Smyrna), but these are also unsubstantiated to me.
I have a limited number of archive photos dating from the family residency in Turkey, though without any inscriptions on their reverse. I only recognise my youthful grandfather (Josef) on the far left of the group in this photo, of a range of group outings / hunting. Wouldn’t it be great if someone recognised any of these characters?
Little is known about my great-grandfather Dr Jean Murat. I remain open-minded on the origin of my surname. I have the impression Murat is not a common surname, but not unheard of among Greeks: Andreas Mouratis was a famous football player for Olympiakos, for example. I have been informed of work by a fellow contributor this site, Andrew Simes, that there are several Murat names inscribed in a rather dilapidated Catholic church on the island of Lesbos/Mitilini, that acted as a place of refuge for many Smyrna Levantines during the turmoils of 1922. Some of the family letters in my possession are written in French (for example from the cousins in Beirut and announcing the funeral of Dr Jean Murat), although that may simply reflect the practices of the educated in a multicultural town. And given his medical profession, it is also a possibility that Jean was Armenian, as I understand there were many Armenian doctors at that time in Smyrna.
Note: The book ‘Levantins - Oliver Jens Schmitt’, also indicates there were/are Murat family members in Constantinople, though no guarantee they were of the same family (tr.): p. 137, ‘Levantine families of Galata-Pera in 1750... Murat’ and on page 235, segment of an oral interview with P. Pio Murat.
In addition in June 2013 a collector of archive papers based in Cyprus, Mr Ilias Papadopoulos, provided a trade-letter by a Joseph Murat sent in 1924, but so far there is no guarantee again that he belonged to the same Levantine family.
However the detailed analysis with friends connected with this web site, and cross-checking records in Trieste have revealed an origin that points to a Persian-Catholic background with a healthy admixture of Greek through marriage. Thanks to the translation work of researcher George Poulimenos, a rough family tree of the Murat family c. 1800-1918 period was created, and this work was built up on by George Vassiadis by cross-checking with archive books from authors such as Nikos Kararas.
I will be grateful for any readers out there who can provide more information on my continuing quest. joe_murat[at]hotmail.com
submission date 2009-10