6th-great-grandma’s family reveals a massive load of information to explode the family tree

I’ve been waiting for my family tree to explode past 2,000 people. Ancestry.com has so many  family trees with thousands of people and I wondered when I could ring in my 2,000th person on my family tree.

While on vacation, I got quite the surprise from a professional researcher I hired a few months ago. The amount of information he found by researching my 6th-great-grandma’s family was unreal.

It took several days to plug in all the direct ancestors and distant cousins into my family tree. It grew to 2,664 people from the original 1,962 people, all thanks to detailed census records from central Russia.

I was hoping this family line would be the jackpot. Two of my great-grandpa’s sisters married men with my 6th-great-grandma’s maiden name. His godfather also carried the same last name.

So it seemed as if this would be the name to research. Not only did my family tree blossom as if it were a tree shot with Miracle Grow, I learned about two female lines of my great-grandfather. That is hardly a simple task in Russian genealogy.

It takes a lot of work to discover maiden names of women. In many Russian records, women are identified by their given name (first name) and patronymic name (middle name from the father’s first name such as Ivanovna or Vasilievna).

So it’s hard to understand the thrill of my researcher finding the full name of another 6th great-grandmother, especially one from a different village when the village name and her maiden name match. Sounds as if another interesting story will come my way when I research that line.

The other discovered maiden name of another female direct ancestor brought the family tree closer in time. The research of my 6th-great-grandma uncovered the full name of a 3rd-great-grandmother, leaving only one grandparent of my great-grandpa as a mystery.

In the end, research of my 6th-great-grandma exploded my family tree and pushed my family tree back to the early 17th and late 16th centuries for three family lines. I also learned my 10th-great-grandfather served in the great sovereign policeman service in central Russia during the 17th century.

Now, I am waiting to discover cousins online who could make the names in my family tree more complete with stories. It took four years to reach this point. My cautious way of researching won’t ever make me wonder whether growing my family tree came at the price of being filled with mistakes.

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Piecing together puzzles for one name

DNA testing finally proves its value in finding 16th century documents

It’s been almost 4 years since I decided to try DNA testing for genealogy. Lately, it has been a bust of distant cousins who rarely share one common surname.

So out of boredom, I started e-mailing my supposed distant cousins who have common ethnicity. I totally forgot I already e-mailed one match my standard message asking whether he has ancestors from the same places by chance. That was the best mistake I could have made.

My fourth cousin reminded me that I sent the same message twice but offered me something I never got from my other thousands of DNA distant cousins. He acquired records from Russian State Archives of Ancient Documents on our common ancestors from the 1590s-1600s.

I forgot that we had a common surname from the same Russian region. My cousin researched his ancestry as far back as possible and determined existing records can only connect us back to the 1600s while I had given up hope on connecting our families.

A great researcher in Kursk, central Russia, Evgeniy Karpuk, researched my Trunov family back to Peter the Great time, leaving the door open a few years later for this cousin to unload records on me as far back as 1594.

Just 5 years ago, I discovered my great-grandfather’s birth village of the late 19th century written on a German immigration record. I found a great Russian genealogy forum to figure out where this village exists on a map. On that forum, a not-so-friendly man from Belarus who cursed me out for America’s involvement in the Bosnian War gave me Karpuk’s contact information.

All my genealogy ducks lined up and today I have seen records dated from 1594-1646 from a cousin living in Siberia. It did come at the price of $150 US dollars  for 22 scans but that is much less than Russian State Archives of Ancient Documents would have charged me.

Thanks to these scans, I know the names of my 11th- and 12-great-grandfathers and the village where they lived in the 1600s.

So, DNA testing is worth the cheap price of tests today. I paid $289 for my Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test, which is now $99. Just one e-mail message to a cousin who seemed too distantly related helped me discover more ancestors because I made the effort to reach out.

Here is a sample of these old Russian records:

ancietcopy

SSSHHH!!! Detailed civilian records of Soviet persecution camps declassified………

There is nothing like another night of boredom and being determined to find an exciting Russian archives database. I knew I found something hot when the website’s address was unsecret.rusarchives.ru.

First, I thought it was just a boring list of declassified records of communist-era bureaucratic boards. Who really cares about that stuff unless your family served on those boards? Then, I found the search engine and the real “unsecrets” were sitting there in detail.

I copied and pasted four pages of declassified records’ details into Google Translate when I hit the phrase “Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных”. This translates into institution for prisoners of war and interned.

I cautiously thought this must be just POW records of the USSR during World War II. Nope, it’s not possible. This possibly covers the POWs of WWII but why are the records dated from the 1940s to the early 1960s?

Then I realized the Russian government quietly declassified records of people who were persecuted for talking to foreigners, receiving letters from foreigners or “committing” crimes that never happened and sent to the infamous camps called gulags.

Here’s a sampling of what I found by searching Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных УМВД on unsecret.rusarchives.ru/search.

Burial of prisoners of war in the camps number 190 and number 16; death certificates of prisoners of war; and lists of prisoners of war repatriated to their homeland.

There are already two great websites that list many of the persecuted people of the USSR on Жертвы политического террора в СССР and National database of repressed of Ukraine but the declassified records will answer questions about relatives’ experiences during their persecution.

The list of declassified records can be found on one page here. For the list translated into English, click here. (These two links are having problems right now. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Unsecret.rusarchives.ru has many more records listed than the linked page above. For non-native Russian speakers, have your relatives’ regions translated into Russian by Google Translate, then copy and paste the translation and the phrase “Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных” into the search box on unsecret.rusarchives.ru/search and click on поиск (search in Russian) for the results.

Have  Google Translate open in the next window so results can be copied and pasted for translation to see what records are available at Russian State Military Archives.

Anyone ready to learn about their relatives’ persecutions in files at Russian State Military Archives in Moscow, click here for the guide to make requests.

 

Guide to requesting declassified records of the former USSR gulags

It’s a major step to search for records of relatives who were persecuted in the USSR. Being properly prepared is the most important part of the process.

Here’s how to increase the chances of success:

1. Collect all possible personal information on your relatives: full names, birth dates, birthplaces, parents’ names, marriage dates, names of spouses, old addresses, dates of arrests, professions or work titles, etc. If you don’t have exact dates, make sure to narrow down the time frames.

2. When writing your request, make sure to use non-aggressive wording such as “I would be grateful if your archive office could search for records on ___________________,” instead of “I am requesting a search of records on ______________.”.

3. Include the file names and numbers where you expect your relatives to be found in the archives. Once you know the Russian or Ukrainian regions or Soviet republics where they lived, you will see the files listed in example as “Institution for prisoners of war and interned Voroshilovgrad Region…F. 14P, depository unit 116, 1943 – 1953″.

Use the Russian version of the information by placing your cursor over the translated text and then copy the Russian text. A box will appear “Original Russian text:” in a mini-pop-up box.

4. Include in your letter that you found the files listed on  http://guides.rusarchives.ru/browse/guidebook.html?bid=123&sid=173787 or http://unsecret.rusarchives.ru/so the employee handling your request doesn’t mistaken the information as still classified.

5. Offer to provide proof of ancestry in a follow-up letter to finalize your inquiry. It shows you are making a serious effort to make the request.

6. Show a lot of appreciation for your request being accepted. Use sentences such as “I will be grateful for any information that can be found.” “Your efforts will be greatly appreciated.” “Thank you for considering my inquiry. I hope I have provided enough information to make the search successful.”

7. With the archives being in Moscow, requests can be sent in English. I highly recommend using very simple sentences. Google Translate can be used to have the letter written in Russian but Google Translate doesn’t do the greatest job. If you use Google Translate to send a letter in Russian, I recommend sending a copy in English.

8. Send your request to Russian State Military Archives, ul. Admirala Makarova, 29, Moscow, Russia, 125212. If you live in the USA, put the postal code to the left of Moscow on the envelope. The postal machines could try to send the letter in the USA by accident.

9. Requests can be sent by e-mail to rgvarchiv@mailfrom.ru. You must provide your postal address to have your request considered. You may quickly receive an e-mail message requesting that you send a statement in Russian that you will be financially responsible for the cost of the search.

10. Next is waiting for a response without pestering the archives about the status of your request. It could take weeks to months. Sometimes, Russian archives send their responses by postal mail through the Russian Embassy so don’t just wait for responses directly from archives.

Good luck! Post your questions below. It would be great to hear the results, positive or negative, in the comment area below.

 

The priceless value of a sixth cousin

I have been eager to find the closest cousins as possible but the cousins with the most information have been those who needed to be identified by pulling out the family tree.

I was excited to seeing a posting by a distant cousin on a genealogy forum. The man’s paternal grandmother was born into the same family as my paternal grandmother. Our grandmothers were 4th cousins, leaving our common ancestor as our 5th great-grandpa.

The effort it took to track down my Russian-American 6th cousin was quite the feat. He posted his message on the most popular Russian genealogy forum 10  years ago so the postal and e-mail addresses he posted were out-of- date.

I had to research him on Google and find information on him on  Intellius before I called the right house. I knew this was worth all the effort when I uncovered he wrote a book on his southern Russian ancestry in ENGLISH.

Anytime I can find documented research on my Russian ancestors in English, it is a happy dance marathon. This is the first time ever that I had the luck of finding information on my ancestors in English.

The details that my sixth cousin found by visiting archives in St. Petersburg on my direct ancestors, starting from my great-grandfather’s generation, was beyond words. I never thought a sixth cousin would be so resourceful.

The cherry on top of this cake was that my cousin uncovered the full names of 3rd and 4th great-grandmothers, a task that is hardly easy to accomplish in Russian genealogy. Uncovering these surnames proved we are cousins twice, through our 5th great-grandfather and my 4th great-grandmother.

This all opened another door I never expected. Thanks to our Don Cossack ancestry, I was able to find information on my 4th great-grandmother’s family in  a genealogy book written by Sergei Koryagin.

So, now I have information on more than 30 relatives of my 4th great-grandmother. Koryagin details the service of the Don Cossacks in my 4th great-grandmother’s family in his genealogy book.

All due to the efforts of finding a 6th cousin, I have more than names and dates on relatives of my grandmother and 4th great-grandmother. This would have costed me thousands of dollars on my own.

Not all distant cousins are filled with family information but it is worth the effort to say hello to cousins who are connected to those great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. The information awaiting you to break down some brick walls could be just an e-mail message away.

Related post:

Discovering Don Cossack ancestry the easy way

Massive Soviet Army WWII database tells the story of millions of soldiers

The Russian government is sharing the joy of the 70th anniversary for the Soviet Army’s victory over the German army with the world. This anniversary is being celebrated with the opening of an impressive database.

Memory of a Nation 1941-1945 has more than 50 million records on Soviet Army WWII soldiers and that includes 2 million records on locations of soldiers’ burial sites.

The cherry on top of this tasty Russian torte is that paths of individual soldiers are shown on maps with details on their unit’s activities. It is so thrilling to look up my grandfather’s brother on this database and see the path he took with his unit through Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany and learn the medals he earned on his way to the Soviet Army’s victory.

mapvalentin

I do not have the luck of finding records of my grandfather in this database. He was a “traitor” for getting captured by the German army, then escaping a German POW camp and finding a way out of the Soviet Ukraine during the war.

Every effort to find his records have failed after contacting military archives in Ukraine and Russia. Now that effort to contact military archives is no longer needed, thanks to this database.

The only caveat in using this database is that only keywords in Russian can be used in the search engine. Names and other keywords can be easily translated on Google Translate. This website can be viewed through Google Translate here.

To easily work through the website, here are some simple translations: фамилия: last name; имя: first name; отчество: patronymic name (middle name from the father, i.e. Ivanovich); год рождения: birth year; место рождения: place of birth; and дата выбытия: date of service ending.

Out of curiosity, I searched my great-grandfather’s Russian birth village to see who would appear in the database. This may be an easier way to find relatives in the database if it is easier to translate names of villages and small towns than complicated Russian surnames.

If people who are uncomfortable with Russian websites still aren’t convinced of the database’s value, here is an article in English, explaining the database in detail.

The effort to use this database will prove to be well-worth it in results for many people.

Top 10 tips for charming the guardians of communist-era records

I didn’t know birth, marriage and death records were open records in Russia and Ukraine for the communist-era until a few years ago. It takes more than saying “Please, give me information on grandpa.” to get a peek at these records.

Some registry offices that possess these records have friendly  and helpful staff while other offices have staff who find every excuse to block your efforts to get information.

So here’s how to charm the keepers of these records:

1. Make sure you have complete and accurate information on your relatives. Don’t ruin your chances with getting information by providing “I’m kind of sure” information on your relatives.

2. Do research the place of birth, marriage and death of your relatives. You can search for the places on Google and see what details webpages give on the area. This is highly recommended to make sure you send your request to the correct registry office. Simply use Google to search загс (Russian and Ukrainian for registry office) and the town or city of your relatives in Russian or Ukrainian.

2. Get your records proving ancestry to your relative together, scan them and post them to Google + Photo Albums, with the album set as share privately. Make sure to write small descriptions of each record and  include a scan of your passport or driver’s license to prove identity in the album. Provide a link to the album in your written request.

3. Never, ever mention the word genealogy or any word related to genealogy when you e-mail or mail your request. The office could reject your request.

4. Don’t ask for official copies of records. You will be sent to the Consulate General of Ukraine or Russia. If you need official reprints of records, make a request for information at the registry office to confirm the record exists first.

5. Make sure your e-mail account can handle Cyrillic. I had to open an account on mail.ru because my American e-mail account turned Russian into random letters and symbols. Copy and paste any random Russian or Ukrainian page of information into an e-mail message to yourself and see how it comes back to you.

6. Avoid using words such as want and need. It is best to use sentences that show gratitude such as “I would be so grateful if you could search for_________________. ” “Your efforts are greatly appreciated.” “Any information you could provide would be appreciated.”

7. Do not advertise you are a foreigner with an e-mail subject line such as “Request from USA” in English nor Russian. It is best to state you are unable to visit the office personally to avoid invitations to make your request in person.

8. It is highly recommended to send your e-mail message or letter in Russian or Ukrainian. Many offices still do not work in English. Ask for help on a Facebook genealogy page, visit a Russian or Ukrainian Orthodox Church or high school or college that teaches the languages to find help with translation.

9. Do not give the registry office a time limit to respond to your request even if it sounds innocent such as “I look forward to hearing from you in the next few weeks.”

10. Show gratitude no matter what were the results of the search. Send a thank note by postal mail or e-mail after the results are sent. You never know when you will have to deal with that office again.

Good luck!