Today, I instant messaged a contact in southern Russia with questions about high school education in the early 20th century to help find family academic records in archives. In the end, I made a major breakthrough that I didn’t think had a chance of happening.
The conversation moved onto my Facebook friend’s newest book publication and his acquisition of 1915 residency records. Just out of curiosity, I had my friend look up my paternal grandmother’s family. Minutes later, I had pictures of my grandmother’s childhood home in Russia.
I heard stories that my great-grandmother was so rich that she bought houses for her six children. I saw pictures of a house where the family had lived during World War II but still wasn’t convinced of great-grandma’s wealth. Today, that wealth was proven without a doubt.
My great-grandmother was listed in 1915 records owning a 8,000 ruble house when so many other houses in the city were valued less than 2,000 rubles. The house was such a great importance in my grandmother’s birthplace that it was the sole focus of two postcards.
My father’s first cousin told me of a massive family house that had a garden for children to play. I thought I found a picture of that house through the city’s library a few years ago but my cousin said she didn’t remember that particular house. Almost 69 years after leaving her hometown, I can finally show my cousin pictures of the house where she played as a child.
Out of curiosity I searched the house address, city and my grandmother’s maiden surname in Russian on Google, I found more information on the house. The information posted about the house made me speechless in the worst way about my great-grandmother.
A distraught mother wrapped her 9-day-old daughter in blankets at night in February 1910 and left the baby on my great-grandmother’s doorstep, with the hope that my rich great-grandmother would take her in. The mother left a note to not leave her daughter to die poor and unhappy.
So what did my great-grandmother do to this innocent baby girl? She sent her away to an orphanage, where she likely died or lived an unhappy life. Oh, the words I would have for my great-grandmother for not making room for the child when she lived in a mansion.
What makes this situation even worse to imagine is that my great-grandmother worked as a teacher before she got married. She also worked as a teacher after her husband died to provide for her six children. How could a woman from a wealthy family who didn’t need to work choose to work with children and turn away from an infant in need?
This discovery does put a damper on the joy of making this major breakthrough and makes me wonder if my great-grandmother ever regretted sending the baby to an orphanage.
Two years later, her husband died of a heart attack and several years following his death, the communist government forced my great-grandmother’s family out of the mansion to make room for a boys school.
My family continued to live with servants in smaller houses. I hope my great-grandmother realized her dream home was better off giving many boys a better future when she couldn’t give one more child a better life in that house.
Here’s the family home that didn’t have room for one more child: