Monthly Archives: October 2011

Libraries are a gem in Russia

The history of Russia does not tell the story of freedom of expression in newspapers, magazines or books. So when I e-mailed the library in the city where my father and his mother were born, I was not sure whether the library would be very helpful.

I was surprised beyond words by how the staff responded to my request for information on my family. I sent an e-mail message asking whether the library had any information on my family. My e-mail message included names of my relatives and the street where they lived.

In response to my e-mail message, the library gave me several paragraphs from a book on the history of the house where my family lived. The history included the exact date and cause of death of my great-grandfather. This information was wonderful news, especially when it was free.

Originally, I was disappointed to learn the family house no longer stood. Then, I received a second message from the library. The author of the book that was the source of  information was not aware my family’s house number was changed to accommodate an apartment highrise.

The family home still stands. The library employee sent me a current picture of the house. I have all of my paternal grandmother’s family photos and none of them were of the family home. My grandmother’s nieces and nephews also did not have a photo.

I also had luck when I e-mailed another library a half hour from my father’s hometown. Wikipedia had little information on the village where my great-grandfather was born, so I sent an e-mail message to the local history department of the region’s main library.

I received a detailed history, historical census information and present conditions of the village. The library staff used several sources and provided a list of sources.

With the limited amount of information Russian and Ukrainian archives provide, libraries should be seriously considered as a source of information. Libraries in Russia and Ukraine have limited resources, so requests sent to libraries should not be too demanding. Some possible questions to send a local library- How common is my family name? Where can I find old pictures of the town/city? Is there a local genealogical society? Requests should be sent to the general e-mail address or the local history department.

Some libraries have a service where they scan pages of magazines, newspapers and books for a fee. This is a great resource to access. Many books in Russia and Ukraine have limited printings, so it is sometimes hard to buy the actual book. The easiest way to pay for the service is Western Union, which is popular in Russia and Ukraine.

To search for libraries where relatives lived, search библиотека (Russian) or бібліотека  (Ukrainian) and the name of the town or city in Russian or Ukrainian. Google Translate can be used to translate the town or city’s name into the appropriate language.

Oh, dear Canada! Your free databases are aplenty

I can say with confidence that the website of Canada’s national archives is so much better than the website of  U.S. National Archives. The information available on this website beats paying for the expensive Ancestry.com’s annual membership that covers international document access.

For starters, Library and Archives Canada has a great resource for those researching Ukrainian relatives who immigrated to Canada. The Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers collection contains documents that the Canadian consular offices of Russia created between 1898 and 1922.

The collection’s database provides an immigrant’s full name, marital status, gender, religion and hometown, in addition to the file number needed to obtain the record. The collection includes about 11,400 files on Jewish, Ukrainian and Finnish immigrants who arrived from Russia.

Some databases for naturalization records also can be found on Library and Archives Canada. Naturalization of immigrants that occurred between 1915 and 1936 can be searched by name here. More than 30,000 Russian immigrants were naturalized in Canada between 1915 and 1932.

A second database for naturalization record information from 1936 to 1951 can be searched by date. The database provides the name, country of origin, date of naturalization, occupation, town of residence, certificate number and series for each immigrant.

Naturalization records can be easy obtained through Library and Archives Canada. The procedure for obtaining the records are posted here. The general information on naturalization on the website also is helpful.

If relatives were naturalized before 1915 or after 1951, Citizenship and Immigration Canada can conduct a search for you.

Library and Archives Canada also provides a database of  immigrants who arrived between 1925 and 1935 here. The name, age, gender, nationality and date, port and ship of arrival are posted for each immigrant, whose file number also is listed.

Library and Archives Canada offers a search engine that combs through all genealogical database here. This search engine will not catch everything because some of the genealogical documents  are posted on PDF files such as the naturalization records of 1935 to 1951.

The wealth of online archival information continues on two more websites: AMICUS and CAIN.  The database of AMICUS has more than 30 million records from 1,300 Canadian libraries. The search engine for Canadian Archival Information Network (CAIN) will check more than 800 archival institutions.  This is just an amazing amount of information for researching relatives.

Wait for Me

As a child, I loved to watch “Unsolved Mysteries,” hosted by Robert Stack. I enjoyed the stories about missing people the most. I always wondered- Is the missing person watching and will they ever find their family?

Russians also enjoy TV shows about missing people. One show is very popular- “Жди Меня (Wait for Me),” which ranks in the top five shows of Russia. Its website claims the show has found 150,000 people worldwide and 20 percent of the world’s population has seen the show.

This show’s website is a great resource for find missing relatives. To take advantage of this resource, I highly recommend downloading Google Translate for the web browser.

The database of missing people for “Жди Меня”  can be searched here. Type the last name in the first line provided for the name search. The name must be written in Russian. A Russian keyboard is linked next to the form for those not using a Russian keyboard.

Also, anyone can submit their missing person story here for review to appear on the TV show and its website. Registration is required for the submission. Users can check the status of their submission. After a certain amount of time, the story expires and must be resubmitted.

Missing people also can be searched here. This website for the TV show also provides a form for submitting a missing person post, which can include a photo of the missing person. The database has more than 305,000 people.

“Жди Меня” has a Facebook page here. Some people have posted information on their missing relatives on this page. So don’t be shy to do the same. The more people who see a missing person post, the higher the chances the right person will find it.

The TV show has an English website here but it has little information. So it is best to use the regular website with Google Translate. “Жди Меня” posted a few of its success story videos in English on the English website.

Doors are open on “secret files”

Everyone in my family has heard my grandmother’s brothers were arrested, beaten and released from prison for being “enemies of the state” in the 1930s.

Out of curiosity, I decided to request information from my grand uncles’ communist persecution files. I really didn’t think I would get anything because communist-era records are supposed to be closed in Russia.

Well, I sent my letter to the wrong office but that office sent my request to the correct office. The office where I sent the original request told me to be patient and I would receive information in one to two months. The files were located.

I was expecting a one- to two-paragraph letter that the information could not be released. But I got more than a full page of information. The letter with the information stated the files could not be located. Somehow the information was still available…

I got the dates of the investigation and arrests, the charges based on criminal codes and prison release dates of my grand uncles, whose addresses also were released. The office also checked for three other relatives, just in case they had problems with the authorities. Nothing was found on my other relatives.

It turned out that my five grand uncles were the only ones in my father’s family who had problems with the authorities. All of this was the result of one brother pulling out a German technical journal on a train, according to a daughter of a grand uncle.

I know of a relative from my mother’s family who had a similar problem with authorities. The family story is that her brother sent her family clothes from Berlin to her village in central Russia. The brother had a habit of hiding religious literature in his packages because he hated that religion was banned in the USSR. He wanted his sister to share his devotion to religion.

Recently, I requested her communist persecution file in another region of Russia. Luckily, I never heard of my family having problems in what is now Ukraine, which still keeps these records closed. I cannot even get my grandfather’s military POW record from Ukraine when it was the Germans who held my grandfather prisoner.

If you are interested in getting a communist persecution file from Russia, find the Прокуратура for the region where your relative lived. You can find the contact information easily. Search on Wikipedia for your relative’s home region. Wikipedia will have the region written in Russian. Copy Прокуратура and the region written in Russian into the Google search engine and a website for the right office should appear.

Some offices will have e-mail addresses. I would recommend sending a letter. If you choose to send an e-mail message, write a letter for a status update after two months if you do not receive a confirmation your message was received. My request took four months to arrive in the mail.

Make sure you provide the full name of your relative, her or his birth date, birthplace, spouse’s name and address, if possible. The more information you provide, the better chance you have in getting a positive response. Also, ask for any personal information that can help find your relative or their family. The letter or e-mail message should focus on the fact that the request is being made to find relatives, not for genealogical research. The letter naturally needs to be written in Russian. Prompt is a great free online translator.

If you have problems finding the correct Прокуратура, please e-mail me at bepa.  miller  @ mail.  ru.

EWZ- Three important letters

These three letters probably were a major factor in finding my grandmother’s sister, who disappeared in 1945.

EWZ stands for Einwanderungszentralstelle, a document used by ethnic Germans living abroad for obtaining German citizenship from 1939 to 1945.

During World War II, times were desperate and my family needed to get out of Nazi-occupied Kiev. My great-grandmother was born in Bialystok, Russia, (now Poland), but her maiden name was Hoffmann.

Her German ancestry saved her family. She used her ancestry to obtain German citizenship for her Russian husband born in Kursk (central Russia) and her two teenage children and the family was able to leave war-torn Kiev safely.

It’s important to know the ancestry of all relatives. It makes a major impact on finding missing relatives, especially when there is a chance relatives used German ancestry to leave the USSR.

EWZ files are filled with information that detail life in the USSR and the family’s ancestry. EWZ files also have family trees to prove German ancestry and photos of the immigrant.

I obtained the EWZ files of my great-grandparents, grand uncle and grand aunt. I used my grand aunt’s EWZ number as an identification number when I made a tracing request with International Tracing Service- Bad Aroslen. I am confident that this information helped find her.

Here is how an EWZ typical appears. The document is translated into English for this sample.

There are 110,000 EWZ files on ethnic Germans who came from the Soviet Union and they are not hard to obtain.

The Family History Center at Mormon churches have access to microfilms of these documents. Anyone can visit the center to rent and review the microfilms, which cost about $7.50 for two months to rent. The catalog of microfilms are posted here. I have visited two family history centers, which usually have daytime, evening and weekend hours. The volunteers are friendly and helpful.

Anyone also can view the microfims at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

The microfilms can be purchased for $65 per roll by contacting: National Archives Trust Fund, P.O. Box 100793, Atlanta, Georgia 30384-0793 or 1-800- 234-8861.

Several researchers can be contacted to review the microfilms. National Archives does not have a paid service to review these microfilms, but staff will review microfilm surname indexes to determine which individual microfilm roll could have a file. The College Park archives office can be contacted here for referrals of professional researchers who specialize in researching EWZ microfilms.

I am waiting to hear this month from the researcher who agreed to search for my grandparents in the microfilms. His fee is $40, plus copying and postage fees. I am hoping my grandmother used her mother’s ancestry to obtain citizenship for herself and her husband. EWZ files on my grandparents would provide information that I cannot find in Kiev state archives.

German archives also have microfilms of the EWZ files and perform a paid search service, but the cost of wiring money and the fees involved make this option more expensive than options available in the USA.

Three times lucky

I was told that I would never find my relatives. It would be too hard. Too much time has passed. The family name is too common.

My relative was a great person, but he never used the Internet. I have been using the Internet since 1995. It has taken years to figure out how to find relatives living in the former USSR on the Internet.

The best website for finding living family and ancestors is forum.vgd.ru. I have found relatives from two family lines on this website.

I first found my mother’s father’s family, Tyunin, on the message board for surnames in 2009. I had been on the website for a few years but I never bothered to look up my family’s surnames. I am kicking myself for doing so.

The man looking for my maternal grandfather died two years before I had a friend from Moscow call his house. I found his phone number on Nomer.org. He was so determined to find his uncle’s family.

Luckily, his daughter and son have been wonderful to me. My maternal grandfather had four sisters and one brother.  I have found all of their families through my grandfather’s nephew’s children. I have many old family photos, which include the family home where my grandfather grew up.

My next stroke of luck on forum.vgd.ru was a complete shock. A guy wrote to me convinced he was related to me. He sent me a picture of a man who he thought was my great-grandfather, father of my paternal grandmother. I looked at the picture and said he doesn’t look like anyone in my grandmother’s family.

Then, he sent me a family tree with more than 100 people back to the early 1700s. The guy had all the names of my grandmother’s siblings and their spouses correct. I was stunned. I was so excited that I called my grandmother’s niece at 6 a.m. on a Sunday in Utah.

Since then, the family has been wonderful. They would love for me to visit them in Moscow. One cousin, my third cousin, has translated several documents archives in Rostov region sent me and e-mailed me old family photos of my great-grandfather’s brother’s family. I even have a family photo of my grandmother as a two-year-old with four of her five brothers, her father and grandfather from 1904.

Thanks to this connection, I found another cousin from the Kirsanov family tree I received from my third cousin. A cousin from this family tree posted information on his grandmother’s family on forum.vgd.ru and it matched everything on the family tree.

These distant cousins, sixth cousins, live in Ohio and the family researched the Don Cossack ancestry of our Kirsanov family. So, now I have more information on my paternal grandmother’s family than what my own grandmother even knew.

It took awhile for me to figure out how to register and use forum.vgd.ru. It is real simple if you use Google Translate. Here is the link using Google Translate.

Please don’t get discouraged if you don’t see a possible connection on your family’s surname page. Post your family’s information and maybe a relative will e-mail you.

If you need any help in figuring out this website, please e-mail me at bepa.  miller  @  mail.  ru.

Documents that open doors to information

I always wondered where are all the documents the federal government collected on immigrants. Coming to this country as an immigrant involves constant filing of paperwork.

No one will find the gem of information on ancestry.com, which only has some passenger lists and naturalization records. Many of the records of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) have not been posted online or on ancestry.com.

The biggest gem of genealogy research on immigrant relatives are Alien Files. These files are filled with information on residency, employment, family members and life in the old country. Some files even have marriage and birth certificates, which are almost impossible to obtain from Russia and Ukraine archives.

These gems are the crown jewels for anyone seeking information on Russian or Ukrainian relatives. So many relatives, even my family, did not talk about their relatives or life in the old country under communism. The less everyone knew, the better life would be.

Now, the less you know, the more frustrating genealogy and the search for family become.

That is why these Alien Files are so important. They are available for a reasonable fee. The genealogy program of  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services charges $20 to search for an individual file. It takes a few weeks to determine whether the program has a file. When the file is found, it costs $20 or $35 to obtain the entire file. Then, the program will mail the file within three to four months.

So far, Alien Files on my relatives have ranged in 20 to 50 pages. The files can answer so many questions never asked of relatives and satisfy some curiosities. The genealogy program details the information included in the files here.

Not everyone’s Alien File is available in the genealogy program. Files for deceased persons are available, but someone can request her/his file.

It is best to search NARA’s database here before making a search request with the genealogy program. Many Alien Files for individuals born 1908 or earlier can be found in NARA’s database. If the NARA search engine finds a file, the website will list where the file is located and how to contact the office holding the file.

If the NARA database or the genealogy program does not find a file, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request can be made. Information on making that request is here.

I have made three FOIA requests. The process is long, but worthwhile if the files are found. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services posts updates on the status of FOIA requests here several times a week.

My grandfather’s file has not been found, but I am hoping files of my grand uncle and a cousin are found. Right now, the federal government has the Alien Files stored in many locations. A NARA employee told me to wait some time and resubmit my FOIA because my grandfather’s file is somewhere.

The time it takes to touch these file is long, but it is well worth having documented information on relatives. Basing genealogy or a search for relatives on family stories can sometimes waste precious time and money.