Nothing like a 1930 gambling arrest to help solve a mystery

For three months, I have been stuck in how to help a woman find her great-grandfather’s brother who came to America in the early 1900s. Nothing I searched on Google nor would lead me to her relative.

Then, I noticed just this week that updated the 1920 U.S. Census records. Just out of curiosity, I searched for the man in the new records.

I hit the jackpot when I noticed an address for a man with the same name, birth year, birth place and arrival year as the man I am searching. The address was three blocks away from where my man got caught illegally gambling 10 years later. Personal details in the census record  for this man matched the information provided in the alien registration form I obtained from the USCIS Genealogy Program.

So I followed this man’s family to the 1930 Census. I finally found the family living at an address mentioned in the alien registration form.

That gambling arrest made it possible to find this man. He did not stand out among the other men with the same name and birth year who came from Russia in the early 1900s until I found the address near the place of his gambling arrest.

The mystery of where this family went after the 1940 Census is just that. The four children of my man have such common first names, along with a very common surname. I can’t find any of their birth records. Tracking down those children will involve more detective work.

I was stuck once again until I realized the oldest child was born in Russia. That means that she likely applied for American citizenship to make life easier. Or maybe the genealogy gods already know she avoided naturalization by marrying an American man.

So I searched every way possible to find her naturalization records. Nothing, of course, is available on Then I searched for her mother and several women with the same name, birth year and birthplace were found.

Luckily, the mother applied for naturalization when she lived at one of the three addresses her husband listed on his alien  registration form. I am waiting for an answer from US national archives to see whether her naturalization records are available.

Thanks to the research I’ve done on my family, I know these records will likely have the birth dates, birthplaces and addresses of her adult children when she applied for naturalization.

I am crossing my fingers that a few more details on these children will lead me to living grandchildren of the married couple who came with so many dreams to America.

Here’s to another year of adventures

It’s been three years since I decided to share my journey of researching my Russian and Ukrainian family. I’ve had some incredible successes while I still face some major brick walls.

Just in this past year, I finally found the birthplace of my grandmother’s oldest brother, saw my grandfather’s grave in southern Russia on my birthday and met another paternal Russian cousin on Facebook.

This all happened because I forced myself outside of my comfort zone and started using Russian language forums a few years ago. I am daughter of a Russian and an Ukrainian but I cannot type a Russian sentence on my own. Russian is not an easy language to learn.

Thanks to Google Translate, I have gone farther than I expected in my research from the convenience of my home. A lot of my information on my family I have uncovered through strangers in Russia and Ukraine has been free. Even more information was obtained at prices much lower than would be charged in the English-speaking world.

I am excited by what this coming year has awaiting for me. I have spread numerous posts on many Russian forums that will be discovered by the right people at unexpected times.

Results in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy research doesn’t all come from fancy professional researchers. It’s mostly about the effort you put in and how much you challenge yourself.

I thank you for being interested in my journey. I wish you success in your journey and encourage you to contact me at bepa.miller at when you get stuck.


Don’t let this easy mistake implode your family tree

Anyone researching their Russian and Ukrainian roots can make a major mistake when putting together their family tree.

So let me test you. This name- Svetlana Vladimirovna Krasnikova- is written on a document. What is Svetlana’s maiden name?

If you guessed Vladimirovna, you are wrong.

This is the easiest mistake that could make your family tree a pile of shallow branches that will collapse onto themselves. Vladimirovna is Svetlana’s patronymic name.

What is a patronymic name? This is something I had to learn when I was a teenager and had to give my full name to work for the first time. Thanks to being born to former USSR citizens, I have a patronymic name after my first name.

So, now you have guessed this is a “middle name”. It is special middle name that isn’t picked from a book nor given in honor of a favorite relative or friend. My middle name- Nikolaevna- tells people that I am daughter of Nikolai.

I still get too excited at times that I have found maiden names to add to my family tree. It takes time to understand the difference between patronymic names and surnames.

Just a few years ago, I had to call my mother to ask her whether my great-grandmother’s middle name on the back of a professional photo was her patronymic or maiden name.

It’s hard to contain the excitement that you’ve found a maiden name in Russian or Ukrainian records. Too many times on church records women are only identified by given and patronymic names. So finding maiden names is quite the thrill.

Here are the main rules for identifying patronymic names. For women, the name ends with evna, yevna,  ovna or ichna. For men, the name finishes off with ovich, yevich or yich, according to Wikipedia’s page on patronymic names.

The difference between surnames and patronymic names also can be seen in these examples: Ivanovna (female patronymic) and Ivanova (female surname), Matveyevna (female patronymic) and Matveyeva (female surname), and Nikolayevich (male patronymic) and Nikolayev (male surname).

I have learned over the years about the perks of having patronymic names even when surnames are missing. A crafty Russian researcher found my great-grandmother’s maiden just on her given and patronymic names. That resulted in a Moscow man finding me on Russian forums and confirming us as relatives through a great-great-grandfather.

A patronymic name is not as great as a surname on the family tree but the gift of this unique name is knowing the father’s name just from a “middle name”.

Top 13 tips for making Facebook the best genealogy networking tool

Facebook is more than people posting food, vacation and kids photos lately. It is pretty amazing by the amount of friendly people on Facebook who are willing to help strangers on their genealogy and family searches. I am starting to think that Facebook is the best tool for genealogy networking on the Internet.

Here are my  top 13 tips for getting the best results from Facebook:

1. Search all possible keywords to find the best Facebook groups available. My list of best Facebook groups can be found here.

2. Respect the language of the groups you join. Use Google Translate if the common language isn’t English.

3. Before you post, search the group’s posts in the top right box that says “Search this group.” Maybe you will find someone researching the same family or looking for the same information.

4. Make sure your post fits the theme of the group or you’ll get a taste of Facebook’s instant flow of sarcasm.

5. Include all known information to attract the attention of the group’s members. Providing all the information you’ve collected shows you are serious about your search.

6. Don’t post an excessive amount of requests for help or information in one group nor post the same request in several groups. If you need help with several searches, spread your posts in various groups. Posting the same requests everywhere will get you ignored.

7. Try to be active in the groups you join. It is appreciated when people who post for help also help or show support to other members.

8. Keep track of responses to your posts so you don’t miss any great opportunities for help or new information.

9.  Don’t ignore general genealogy groups. They can be just as helpful as Russian or Ukrainian specific genealogy groups. The general groups have many more members, which increases the number of people who could help you.

10. Don’t turn down information that doesn’t sound accurate at a quick glance. Surnames change, siblings are born in different villages, families change religions so anything is possible when researching the family. Families have been always complicated and confusing.

11. Be polite and always say thank you. It is easy to misunderstand intent and emotion on Facebook. You don’t want to turn off the eager helpers in these groups.

12. Be patient about getting the responses you were expecting from your posts. Sometimes posts don’t get good responses until they are noticed later.

13. Make sure your profile photo or image looks friendly. It sounds vain but a friendly or happy profile photo or image can be an advantage.

This blog has an active Facebook group page here.

Could a beloved sister be a clue in a major breakthrough?

It will be only a matter of time to get a major breakthrough on DNA testing. My family has two strong matches from Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test.

Most recently, my family got our strongest match from a man in Kursk Region, where the vast majority of my maternal ancestors lived for many centuries until the late 1880s.

I got annoyed when my 2nd-4th cousin’s list of direct ancestors are nowhere to be found on my family tree. Then, the fact that his ancestors lived 80 miles away from mine made me even more frustrated.

Then I casually mentioned the married name of my great-grandfather’s favorite sister. My match got very excited because Krasnikov is another important family line that he needs to research more.

But as time passed by, my match became convinced we can’t possibly be related through my great-grand aunt’s husband’s family. How could that work out scientifically? Maybe a Krasnikov could be an undiscovered direct ancestor.

In the village of my great-grandfather’s family, the Krasnikovs are common. Anna and my great-grandfather had a sister who married into the Frolov family.  A professional researcher later discovered that my 6th-great-grandmother carried the Frolov name.

I have been avoiding researching my great-grandfather’s village of Putchina in Kursk Region because 10 years of records are missing from 1880-1919. Those missing records would answer so many questions about my family tree.

That’s why I have spent so much time and money on researching my maternal grandfather’s family in another Kursk Region village, where records are more complete. My professional researcher has researched about every possible line in that village.

So now, it is time to come back to Putchina to see whether DNA testing and genealogy research can come together for major breakthroughs awaiting for me. DNA testing can be the catalyst for major breakthroughs when enough record-based research is done.


The game of chance in picking the correct birth date

Dates are so important in genealogy. The wrong date leads into messes on the family tree. But when is it possible to know the correct date anyway?

My father bragged he shared his birthday with his father. Then I saw a picture of my grandfather’s gravestone in southern Russia. The birth date was off by 10 days from my father’s birthday. Luckily, I have my grandfather’s birth record to confirm his actual birth date.

However since my grandfather was born in the late 1800s, he technically cannot have the same birthday as my father. The Julian calendar was in use when my grandfather was born and the Gregorian calendar was in place when my father was born in Russia.

My grandfather apparently didn’t care for the calendar change because he should have known he and my father’s birthdays were really 12 days apart.

Russia stopped using the Julian calendar on Jan. 31, 1918, much later than the fall 1867 change in the USA. See this website to convert old dates to the new ones.

The birth dates for  my paternal grandmother’s brothers can’t be explained by the calendar change. One grand uncle’s birth is noted on April 6, 1896 in church records when all his immigration records state his birth date as June 4, 1896.

Another grand uncle listed his birth date from the old calendar on immigration records but celebrated his birthday on the new calendar date.

Then his oldest brother’s birth date from church records is July 27, 1891. Grand Uncle Nick decided to use July 29, 1891 as his birth date for his immigration records.

The wife who came with him to the USA was 40 years younger than him on immigration records. She married him so she could immigrate to the USA and marry my grand uncle’s nephew. Anyone who didn’t know the family story would think her birth date was a major mistake.

Another grand uncle’s wife made herself 10 years younger on immigration records to make it easier for immigration. She feared being rejected for immigration as an older woman. This caused quite the mess when she wanted to collect Social Security.

So this all shows never quickly eliminate information based on an incorrect date. In many immigrants’ circumstances learning the new country’s language was difficult and that led to random dates on immigration records.

I feel lucky to have my grand uncles’ birth records from Ukraine to have their actual birth dates. My grand uncles’ methods for declaring their birth dates are great mysteries.

Three siblings go on a DNA test journey

I have read on forums and Facebook group pages about the advantages of having siblings taking the same DNA test. So I decided to test my mother and her brother and sister for my own curiosity.

With my mother’s family mainly being Russian, I decided to get everyone the Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA. Extensive genealogy research shows my maternal grandfather is 100 percent Russian and my maternal grandmother is 50 percent Russian and 50 percent German from Poland.

So here are the numbers of doing the same DNA test for me, my mother, my aunt and my uncle. I have 79 matches and I have 24 matches in common with my mother and 14 matches in common with my aunt but only 3 matches in common with my uncle.

My mother has 80 matches and she has 33 in common with her sister and 26 in common with her brother. My aunt has 76 matches and 26 in common with her brother and 33 in common with her sister. My uncle has 26 matches in common each with his two sisters.

By spending lots of money on these DNA tests, I am hoping my mother, aunt and uncle will give me stronger matches than I have. We all have a bunch of 5th-remote cousins.

My mother has matches for one 2nd-4th cousin, one 3rd-5th cousin and seven 4th-remote cousins. My aunt has matches for one 2nd-4th cousin, three 3rd-5th cousins and three 4th-remote cousins. My uncle has matches for only five 4th-remote cousins.

Naturally, the three siblings don’t match as closely for some people. It is noticeable my aunt’s 3rd-5th cousin matches are listed as 4th-remote cousins for my uncle.

For me, it is most important to get as many Russian and Ukrainian cousin matches as possible due to struggles of document-based genealogy for some family lines.

Based on information matches posted and names of matches, I believe my uncle has 10 matches with people who have Russian and Ukrainian ancestry, my mom has 18 Russian and Ukrainian ancestry matches and my aunt has 12 matches with that ancestry.

Several people need to post more information to their profiles but it is noticeable that more people with Russian and Ukrainian ancestry are taking the Family Finder test. This gives me a lot of hope for some great matches in the future, especially when Family Tree DNA keeps DNA samples for at least 25 years.

Here are the results of my mother, aunt and uncle’s ethnicity breakdowns.